TikTok banned for ND agencies while feds punt on controversial Chinese plant

One of the front lines in the showdown over the Chinese threat to national security continues to be in one of the seemingly most unlikely of places — North Dakota. Forum News says the state became the latest to ban the use of TikTok on state government devices (following South Dakota) amid heightened security concerns nationally over the popular Chinese-controlled social media app.

The Republican governor cited security concerns tied to the Chinese company that runs TikTok. The FBI alleged last month that the Chinese government may be able to use the app to influence users or control their devices.

Burgum’s order came hours after a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers led by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, unveiled legislation that would ban TikTok from operating in the U.S.

“Protecting citizens’ data is our top priority, and our IT professionals have determined, in consultation with federal officials, that TikTok raises multiple flags in terms of the amount of data it collects and how that data may be shared with and used by the Chinese government,” Burgum said in a news release.

At the same time, however, opponents of a controversial Chinese ag plant within 13 miles of the Grand Forks Air Force Base suffered a setback. The project has been on hold pending the outcome of a national security review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). This week the federal panel declined to block the plant from moving forward on the grounds the land sale was not under its jurisdiction, making international headlines in publications like the South China Morning Post.

A federal panel tasked with reviewing a proposed wet corn milling plant at the heart of controversy in Grand Forks has determined the project’s land deal does not fall under its jurisdiction, presumably clearing a path for the plant to move forward.

In a statement, Fufeng USA announced that after an “extensive two-phase review” the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States determined the land acquisition was “not a ‘covered transaction’” under the committee’s jurisdiction and CFIUS will not be taking any further action on the deal. The statement said the review took three months.

“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,” the statement said.

CFIUS evidently did not release any findings on the national security issues raised by the project. But North Dakota GOP Senators John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer still both adamantly oppose the Fufeng plant as a clear threat. Hoeven warned the city months ago that the CFIUS review may not be the final word on the $700 million Chinese plant’s fate.

“There will still be unaddressed security concerns that will impact the continued development of the Grand Forks Air Force Base missions,” Hoeven’s communications team said in an email to city leaders in August.

Cramer said on Tuesday that in light of the CFIUS’ decision not to review the project, he would ask for “intel directly from relevant agencies”.

“My concerns remain the same with the Chinese Communist Party investing in agriculture in North Dakota,” he said, stressing that he looked forward to “the classified briefing scheduled for next week to learn more”.

In the meantime, Grand Forks elected officials have taken the outcome as a green light to restart what they present as just another economic development project.

Despite backlash, Grand Forks city council leaders have long defended their decision to approve the project, which they say will create some 700 direct and indirect jobs and bring in up to US$1 million in additional annual property tax revenue.

Feland said that “those who oppose will continue to have concerns” but the city “will continue with the objective process of moving forward with this development”.

To be continued.