Grand Forks AFB halts ‘official engagements’ with city during security review of Chinese plant

The latest fallout stemming from the proposed Chinese ag plant in Grand Forks involves the strategic air force base at the center of the national security review underway of the controversial project. The Grand Forks Air Force Base has informed city leaders that official activities with the city will be suspended during the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States review of the plant’s potential security threat.

Air Force officials released a statement announcing the temporary cessation of joint activities until the completion of the open-ended federal review, expected to take weeks or even months to wrap up.

“Due to recent developments related to economic projects in the local area, Grand Forks Air Force Base leaders will refrain from official engagements with city administration in order to avoid conflicts of interest and ensure the independence and integrity of the XFIUS review process.”

The proposed $700 million corn milling plant by Chinese-owned Fufeng Group was promoted by city officials as an economic boost for the regional economy. But it’s sparked opposition locally for environmental and other concerns, as well as powerful opposition nationally over the potential security implications for the air force base.

The pause means several popular events with the base will be postponed or cancelled, according to the Grand Forks Herald.

Lea Greene, public affairs chief for the 319th Reconnaissance Wing, said the base wants to maintain separation during the CFIUS review.

“It’s just to maintain separation and impartiality during the review to allow faith for it to happen,” Greene told the Herald. “The hope is to not affect the relationship at all. We want to maintain that good community relationship, but part of it is we have to remain neutral as this process plays out.”

City Administrator Todd Feland said the city’s priority is still to maintain its relationship with the base as the city goes through the “formal regulatory process with CFIUS.”

Meantime, the city has put all infrastructure work for the plant on hold, pending the outcome of the CFIUS review. Nearly a year after the Fufeng project was unveiled, the future of the Chinese-backed plant remains as tenuous as relations between the U.S. and China.