A Chinese company’s purchase of farmland in North Dakota just down the road from a US Air Force base that houses sensitive drone technology has lawmakers on Capitol Hill worried about potential espionage by Beijing, according to a report.
Fufeng Group, a Shandong, China-based company that specializes in flavor enhancers and sugar substitutes, recently purchased 300 acres of farmland near Grand Forks, North Dakota, a rural area that lies about a 90-minute drive from the Canadian border.
Grand Forks is also 40 miles away from Grafton, North Dakota, where a limited liability company believed to be controlled by billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates recently paid $13 million for thousands of acres of potato farmland, causing a stir among locals.
Three North Dakotans sold the land to Fufeng Group for $2.6 million, according to CNBC.
Like the Gates-linked purchase, the sale of local farmland to a Chinese company sparked a visceral reaction, according to one of the sellers, Gary Bridgeford.
That’s because the land is just a 20-minute drive from Grand Forks Air Force Base, which is believed to be the home of some of the country’s most sophisticated military drone technology.
Bridgeford told CNBC that some locals planted signs on his front yard condemning the transaction.
“I’ve been threatened,” he said. “I’ve been called every name in the book for selling property.”
Another local business owner, however, said the fears are justified. Craig Spicer, who runs a trucking company adjacent to the new Chinese-owned land, told CNBC: “It makes me feel nervous for my grandkids. It makes me feel nervous for my kids.”
Bridgeford insists that fears the Chinese government would use the area as a staging point for espionage operations are unfounded.
“How would they gain any knowledge of the base?” he asked. “It’s about 12 miles away. It isn’t like its next door.”
Bridgeford added: “People hear the China stuff and there’s concern.”
“But everyone has a phone in their pocket that was probably made in China. Where do you draw the line?”
Fufeng Group said it is planning to use the land to build a $700 million corn milling plant that would create at least 200 jobs as well as residual opportunities for logistics, trucking, and other services.
But US military officials are raising the alarm nonetheless. Senior Air Force officers circulated a memo in April warning that the presence of Fufeng Group in Grand Forks, a town of just 60,000 people, was a national security threat.
“Some of the most sensitive elements of Grand Forks exist with the digital uplinks and downlinks inherent with unmanned air systems and their interaction with space-based assets,” wrote US Air Force Maj. Jeremy Fox.
A Chinese firm with close proximity to such data “would present a costly national security risk causing grave damage to United States’ strategic advantages.”
Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) has also expressed opposition to the presence of Fufeng Group, which he views as a front for the Chinese government.
“I think we grossly under appreciate how effective they are at collecting information, collecting data, using it in nefarious ways,” Cramer told CNBC.
“And so I’d just as soon not have the Chinese Communist Party doing business in my back yard.”
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), who chairs the powerful Senate Intelligence Committee, echoed that sentiment.
“The Senate Intelligence Committee has been loudly sounding the alarm about the counterintelligence threat posed by the (People’s Republic of China),” said Warner.
“We should be seriously concerned about Chinese investment in locations close to sensitive sites, such as military bases around the US.”
Liu Pengyu, a spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in Washington, DC, told The Post: “The Chinese government encourages Chinese enterprises to conduct overseas investment and cooperation on the basis of local laws.”