Controversial Chinese plant on hold pending national security review

After months of turmoil, the controversial Chinese-owned ag plant proposed in Grand Forks has ground to a halt, pending a national security review. What started as a local economic development project has become a subject of international intrigue, ground zero for officials concerned over the Fufeng Group plant’s proximity to the Grand Forks Air Force Base.

The city put preliminary infrastructure work on hold earlier this month after receiving a letter from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) requesting more information from Fufeng, according to the Grand Forks Herald.

A federal committee reviewing the proposed Fufeng Group wet corn mill in Grand Forks says it needs more information before it can determine whether the Chinese-owned agribusiness poses a risk to national security.

Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski said the city intends to “pause construction work on Fufeng USA specific items” until the federal review is complete.

Grand Forks officials said they welcomed the opportunity to have the project fully vetted before moving forward. The delay will push construction back up to three months or more.

Grand Forks City Administrator Todd Feland said the additional information provided to CFIUS by Fufeng and the property owners who sold the company land will allow the panel to determine whether it has the authority to evaluate the project for national security risks.

The panel’s review is expected to take 45-90 days, according to a city news release.

Bochenski said the city sees the panel’s request for information as “a positive sign that the utmost due diligence will be completed on the proposed project.”

Yet both of North Dakota’s U.S. senators continue to express grave reservations about the security risks the Chinese-owned facility potentially poses to the strategic air force base.

Last week, U.S. Sens. John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer, both R-N.D., told the Grand Forks Herald they advised local and state leaders not to move forward with the mill, citing security concerns.

Cramer railed against Fufeng and the Chinese government in a television interview with Newsmax on Thursday, saying, “We know how good they (the Chinese) are at spying.”

“My sense of it is (this project) is not going to happen,” Cramer said. “I firmly believe that before this is done, this transaction will be stopped and unwound. The local leaders want to see the process played out.”

The standoff comes at a time of mounting U.S. concern over increasing Chinese ownership of farmland and agri-businesses. Legislation has been introduced in Washington to prevent Chinese companies from making such investments.