Air Force opposes Chinese-owned corn plant for North Dakota

Feb 1, 2023, 4:04 PM | Updated: Feb 2, 2023, 2:27 am

The U.S. Air Force has told North Dakota leaders that it believes a Chinese company’s plans to build a wet corn milling plant near its Grand Forks base poses a “significant threat to national security,” prompting city officials to say they’ll move to stop a project once touted as an economic boon.

The Fufeng Group’s planned $700 million facility would be 12 miles (19 kilometers) from the Grand Forks Air Force Base, a location that triggered some local concern about potential espionage. Gov. Doug Burgum and U.S. Sens. John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer — all Republicans — pressed the federal government in July to expedite a review of any security risk.

U.S.-China business ties have become strained amid growing tensions between the two countries over security and trade issues, which often overlap. China on Monday criticized U.S. controls on technology exports as a trade violation. Fears over spying have led the U.S. armed forces to prohibited the Chinese-owned app TikTok on military devices, and nearly half of state governments across the country have banned the video-sharing platform from state-owned devices.

The Grand Forks Air Force Base is a center for both air and space operations, according to a letter sent to Hoeven and Cramer by Andrew Hunter, an assistant secretary of the Air Force. The senators released the correspondence Tuesday.

“The proposed project presents a significant threat to national security with both near- and long-term risks of significant impacts to our operations in the area,” Hunter wrote. The letter didn’t offer any evidence that Fufeng is a threat, nor did it detail what kind of risks the company’s business might pose.

Still, it was enough to move local authorities to action.

“We believe the city should discontinue the Fufeng project and instead we should work together to find an American company to develop the agriculture project,” Hoeven and Cramer said in a joint statement.

Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski said in a statement that he will ask his City Council to deny building permits for the project and to refuse to connect the 370-acre (150-hectare) site in Grand Forks’ agri-business park to public infrastructure. The mayor, who previously favored the project, added that the federal government’s response had been “slow and contradictory.”

“It’s clearly a reflection of both the growing skepticism of trade ties with China and a sense of the security risks that come from Chinese investment,” said Adam Segal, director of the digital and cyberspace policy program at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Without knowing more about specific risks the Air Force fears, it’s not clear why the military considers Fufeng’s proposed mill a greater threat than any other Chinese presence in the area, Segal said. The region is already home to a Chinese-owned Cirrus Aircraft plant.

Fufeng officials previously have denied that the plant would be used for espionage. The company declined a request for comment Wednesday. The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

The Grand Forks City Council gave initial approval last February to the project, which officials said at the time could be the largest private sector investment in the community’s history. The governor initially supported it, too.

But council meetings became increasingly heated over the summer amid growing public opposition and the increasingly strained U.S.-China relationship.

Given the “unambiguous” position of the Air Force, Burgum welcomed the city’s decision to try to stop Fufeng from building the mill. He said in a statement that he would support the city’s efforts to find another partner for a corn milling operation.

Privately owned Fufeng makes products for animal nutrition, the food and beverage industry, pharmaceuticals, health and wellness, oil and gas, and others industries. It’s a leading producer of xanthan gum. The Grand Forks site was to be its first U.S.-based manufacturing facility, and it was expected to initially require 25 million bushels of corn annually.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Republican presidential candidates, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, left, talking with forme...

Associated Press

The GOP debate field was asked about Trump. But most of the stage’s attacks focused on Nikki Haley

The four Republican presidential candidates debating Wednesday night mostly targeted each other instead of Donald Trump.

3 days ago

Law enforcement officers head into the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, campus after reports of an ...

Associated Press

Police say 3 dead, fourth wounded and shooter also dead in University of Nevada, Las Vegas attack

Police said a suspect was found dead Wednesday as officers responded to an active shooter and reports of multiple victims at UNLV.

3 days ago

President Joe Biden's son, Hunter Biden, leaves after a court appearance, July 26, 2023, in Wilming...

Associated Press

Republicans threaten contempt proceedings if Hunter Biden refuses to appear for deposition

House Republicans are threatening to hold Hunter Biden in contempt if he does not show up this month for a closed-door deposition.

3 days ago

Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., listens to a question during a news conference, March 30, 2022, in W...

Associated Press

Tuberville is ending blockade of most military nominees, clearing way for hundreds to be approved

Sen. Tommy Tuberville announced Tuesday that he's ending his blockade of hundreds of military promotions, following heavy criticism.

4 days ago

An employee works inside the Hanwha Qcells Solar plant on Oct. 16, 2023, in Dalton, Ga. On Tuesday,...

Associated Press

US job openings fall to lowest level since March 2021 as labor market cools

U.S. employers posted 8.7 million job openings in October, the fewest since March 2021, in a sign that hiring is cooling.

4 days ago

Megyn Kelly poses at The Hollywood Reporter's 25th annual Women in Entertainment Breakfast, Dec. 7,...

Associated Press

The fourth GOP debate will be a key moment for the young NewsNation cable network

By airing the fourth Republican presidential debate, NewsNation network will almost certainly reach the largest audience in its history.

4 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Follow @KTAR923...

The 2023 Diamondbacks are a good example to count on the underdog

The Arizona Diamondbacks made the World Series as a surprise. That they made the playoffs at all, got past the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Wild Card round, swept the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS and won two road games in Philadelphia to close out a full seven-game NLCS went against every expectation. Now, […]

Follow @KTAR923...

West Hunsaker at Morris Hall supports Make-A-Wish Foundation in Arizona

KTAR's Community Spotlight this month focuses on Morris Hall and its commitment to supporting the Make-A-Wish Foundation in Arizona.


Desert Institute for Spine Care

Desert Institute for Spine Care (DISC) wants to help Valley residents address back, neck issues through awake spine surgery

As the weather begins to change, those with back issues can no longer rely on the dry heat to aid their backs. That's where DISC comes in.

Air Force opposes Chinese-owned corn plant for North Dakota