Grand Forks shoots down Chinese project over national security threat

A proposed Chinese agricultural plant that divided Grand Forks for more than a year finally got shot down Monday as the city council unanimously voted to kill the controversial project on national security grounds. City officials who formerly supported the Fufeng Group plant faced increasing pressure to reject it, following a blunt Air Force warning of the threat the Chinese project posed to the strategic nearby Grand Forks Air Force Base.

The development attracted international media attention, with the U.K. outlet Daily Mail highlighting how Grand Forks’ rejection comes days after the downing of a Chinese spy balloon over the U.S.

A North Dakota council has voted to block a Chinese company from opening a corn mill near a sensitive military base, after a high-ranking United States Air Force official spoke out against the plan.  

The proposal, from Chinese food producer Fufeng Group, prompted fresh fears after a spy balloon was shot down over US air space over the weekend.

US Air Force Assistant Secretary Andrew P. Hunter called the 370-acre farm owned ‘a significant threat to national security’  in a January 27 letter.

The $700 million dollar plant became an unlikely flashpoint in the rising tensions between the U.S. and China. Despite the high stakes internationally, however, Forum News notes the city council wielded the ultimate authority to end the standoff, declining to approve the necessary permits to proceed.

[City attorney Dan] Gaustad said the development agreement was reviewed and Section 8 of that agreement “had a number of conditions that needed to be satisfied.” Gaustad said section 8.1.10 has certain circumstances where the project becomes “impracticable or inadvisable to construct the city infrastructure for a variety of reasons.”

One of those reasons is “the institution or threat by any Governmental Authority of litigation, proceedings or other legal or equitable action against the Developer or the City.”

Opponents who held their ground from the start packed the meeting room, chanting “USA, USA” following the city council decision.

Their vote was met with a round of applause and cheers from those in attendance, many of whom expressed frustration at council members, city staff members and Mayor Brandon Bochenski. 

Though the project had been previously supported by local leadership as a potential boon to the local economy, following the release of the Air Force’s position leaders had vowed to put an end to the project.

The turmoil over the Fufeng plant may be over, but not the hard feelings over how the city government allowed the Chinese project to get so far. Several residents at the meeting called for the resignation of top city officials.

During the Monday meeting, scores of Grand Forks residents turned out to speak out against the project.

Many questioned what led the local government in Grand Forks to come to an agreement with a company based in a nation deemed a ‘national security threat’ by the US government.

Meantime, there’s been no public response from the Chinese Fufeng Group, which must be baffled by a democratic process in which local government officials ultimately called the shots on a project with international implications.