Chinese Corn Mill Project in North Dakota Struck Down by Grand Forks Over National Security Concerns

Chinese Corn Mill Project in North Dakota Struck Down by Grand Forks Over National Security Concerns
A sign opposing a corn mill in Grand Forks, N.D., stands near 370 acres recently annexed by the city for the project. Many residents don't want the project in the city because the owner, Fufeng Group, has reputed ties to the Chinese Communist Party through its company chairman. (Allan Stein/The Epoch Times)
Caden Pearson
2/7/2023
Updated:
2/7/2023
0:00

A city council in North Dakota voted unanimously on Monday to block a Chinese company’s proposed corn mill after the U.S. Air Force raised national security concerns over its proximity to a military base.

The public in attendance cheered and chanted “USA!” when the Grand Forks City Council voted unanimously 5–0 to terminate the proposal by Fufeng Group, a large Chinese agribusiness with strong ties to the Chinese Communist Party.

The proposed mill was intended to be built on 300 acres of land owned by Fufeng Group, which is only 12 miles from a military base that houses top-secret drone technology.

Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski read out the motion, stating that the council’s decision to block the proposed mill was prompted by a letter (pdf) from the Air Force, sent to Sens. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) and John Hoeven (R-N.D.) on Jan. 27, stating that the project “presents a significant threat to national security with both near- and long-term risks of significant impacts to our operations in the area.”

Bochenski said the city determined that certain conditions of the company’s development agreement with the city “cannot be satisfied” and that certain representations and warranties were incorrect, and he directed the city attorney to “take all appropriate actions available and in favor of the city” under the development agreement.

Prior to the vote, Councilwoman Rebecca Osowski acknowledged the concerns raised by citizens about Fufeng’s proposal and thanked them for their support.

“I guess I will say it. Citizens, you were right, and thank you,” Osowski said to applause from members of the public in attendance. “As a citizen of Grand Forks, thank you very much.”

She also urged the city council to “look at what has been done and work together to make things right.”

Airmen assigned to the 319th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron from Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D., perform a maintenance check on a drone on June 6, 2022. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Ashley Richards)
Airmen assigned to the 319th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron from Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D., perform a maintenance check on a drone on June 6, 2022. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Ashley Richards)

National Security Concerns

The city of Grand Forks approved the Fufeng project in November 2021, and the development agreement was signed in July 2022.
That same month, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Hoeven, and Cramer raised their concerns in a letter (pdf) to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin about the Fufeng Group’s operations impacts in the area.

They said its proximity to the base “led to concern that Fufeng operations could provide cover for PRC surveillance or interference with the missions located at that installation, given Fufeng Group’s reported ties to the Chinese Communist Party.”

The senators requested a full review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a federal panel responsible for evaluating foreign acquisitions for potential national security risks.

In December 2022, CIFUS determined it did not have jurisdiction to investigate the land purchase.

Mayor Bochenski declared his intention to stop the project on Jan. 31, saying the federal government requested the city’s help to do so amid geo-political tensions that he said had “greatly increased since the initial announcement of the project.”

“The only remedies the city has to meet this directive is to refuse to connect industrial infrastructure and deny building permits,“ Bochenski said. ”As mayor of the city of Grand Forks, I am requesting these remedies be undertaken and the project be stopped, pending City Council approval.”

A sign spells out the concerns many residents have over a proposed corn mill in Grand Forks, N.D. (Allan Stein/The Epoch Times)
A sign spells out the concerns many residents have over a proposed corn mill in Grand Forks, N.D. (Allan Stein/The Epoch Times)

The council’s vote to block the development agreement was made shortly after a Chinese spy balloon was left to travel over the United States, including hovering above a military base in Montana, before being brought down near the coast of South Carolina.

Despite the city’s vote to terminate the development agreement, Fufeng USA, the U.S. subsidiary of Fufeng Group, will still retain ownership of the farmland they purchased in Grand Forks in the fall of 2021.

As of Dec. 31, 2020, China held 325,686 acres of U.S. agricultural land, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This represents less than 1 percent of all foreign-held agricultural land, but a significant increase from 13,720 acres in 2010.

Several state officials have also expressed concern about Chinese ownership of U.S. farmland, leading to legislation in states such as South Dakota, Florida, Texas, Virginia, Missouri, and Iowa aimed at prohibiting or restricting Chinese entities from buying U.S. agricultural land and businesses.

Eva Fu contributed to this report.
Caden Pearson is a reporter covering U.S. and world news.
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