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Port: Thanks for nothing, CFIUS

And we wonder why people are losing faith in the institutions of government.

A pickup truck parked across from City Hall ahead of a City Council meeting displays one view of the proposed Fufeng corn wet milling plant.
A pickup truck parked across from City Hall ahead of a City Council meeting displays one view of the proposed Fufeng corn wet milling plant.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
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MINOT, N.D. — The turmoil over a proposed corn milling plant to be built by the American subsidiary of a Chinese company was done no favors by the federal bureaucrats tasked with evaluating foreign investments in the United States.

Local officials who support the project, like Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski, a rising star in North Dakota politics, have come under fire from those concerned about the security implications of the project.

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That Communist China is deeply invested in spying on the United States is not debatable, as I detailed in a previous column , nor is the country's willingness to use commercial endeavors as a cover for such operations the product of some red scare fever dream.

This week, Gov. Doug Burgum, who supports this project, announced a ban on using the social media service TikTok on state-owned devices and internet connections because of the app's ties to China.

But Bochenski and other North Dakota officials who support the project, like Burgum, are right when they argue that a corn milling plant, whoever might own and operate it, would be an economic boon, not just to the city of Grand Forks but the entire region.

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They're also right when they point out that there are plenty of China-tied businesses already operating in our region — Cirrus Aircraft, which is Chinese-owned , has a facility in Grand Forks — and that the national security implications of this sort of foreign investment are well beyond the jurisdiction of the state of North Dakota and its political subdivisions.

This is why everyone was hoping that a review of the project by the federal government's Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS, would bring some clarity to the Fufeng debate.

It didn't.

It took the folks at CFIUS three months to give the public a non-answer on the question of the FUFENG project.

All that time invested into what the CIFUS itself described as an “extensive two-phase review" and what these federal bureaucrats came up with is that they don't have jurisdiction to review the project.

And we wonder why people are losing faith in the institutions of government.

The Fufeng folks are all but declaring victory — “Fufeng USA is pleased with the outcome of the CFIUS review and is looking forward to building its wet corn milling and biofermentation plant in Grand Forks, North Dakota,” their statement said — but this resolves nothing.

CFIUS did nothing.

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No questions were answered. No concerns were eased. What was the point?

North Dakota's two senators, John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer, have come under fire for announcing opposition to the Fufeng project before the CFIUS review was done. Some have tried to cast that decision as nakedly political, and maybe it was, but in the wake of CFIUS punting on this issue, they come off looking almost prescient.

The review, if we can call it that, turned out to be a waste of everyone's time.

Which should be frustrating to everyone, on every side of this debate. Whether you think the concerns about this project are valid, or the political capitalization of rank xenophobia, it would have been nice if the federal government could have given us some clarity.

They didn't. Even if CFIUS doesn't technically have jurisdiction, some agency, some official, somewhere in the vastness of our federal government, should be able to give us some guidance.

They haven't.

They've left us with a vacuum, and they left our state and local officials twisting in the wind, tasked with overseeing this project in the face of questions they cannot possibly answer themselves.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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