The renowned manufacturer of the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9A Reaper, General Atomics (GA-ASI), has expressed concerns and “firmly opposes” China’s agricultural project near Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota.

In a press release statement released last week, the GA-ASI urged the US Government to reconsider the approval of the 370 acres of land purchase of Fufeng Group instead scrapping the whole project proposal entirely, noting potential espionage. The planned $700 million corn milling plant is only 15 miles from the air base, where defense technology companies such as GA-ASI generally “conduct significant test and evaluation efforts related to unmanned aircraft, radar systems, and other advanced military technologies,” jeopardizing national security.

“The proposed agricultural project represents a major vulnerability for maintaining the necessary secrecy and integrity of classified weapons, communications frequencies, satellite connectivity, and many other technologies vital to global security,” the statement read.

GA-ASI spokesman C Mark Brinkley highlighted that the Chinese business efforts are more often than not inextricably linked with Chinese government measures.

“We can’t ignore the opportunity for sophisticated military espionage to co-locate itself within a Chinese business of such scale and scope. Given the proximity to critical national airspace and sensitive military operations on and around Grand Forks Air Force Base, American leaders should be very, very concerned. I know I am. So, we’ve got to act,” Brinkley added.

And Brinkley, indeed, is right. American policymakers should thoroughly review, if possible, halt the project and land procurement altogether, despite significant economic opportunities. Grand Forks Air Force Base and its surrounding area uphold important information and sensitive military operations that could jeopardize national security.

“We understand the significant economic opportunities this proposed agricultural project represents for the people of Grand Forks and the state of North Dakota,” Brinkley said. “But no measure of assurances from the company can ever offset the tremendous risk being introduced. The strategic national security value of Grand Forks cannot be overstated, and that’s why we’re asking the US government to act swiftly to protect this asset.”

Concerns and Opposition to the Chinese Project

The GA-ASI is among the many who voiced concerns at the $700 million project by the Fufeng Group, sparking debates since it first transpired earlier this year.

In February, the Grand Fork City Council gave an initial green signal to the Chinese company, to which the officials stressed that it could leverage the community’s economy, considering it could be the largest private sector yet to invest in the region. The construction alone would generate up to 1,000 employment within three years and approximately 750 new jobs once completed.

When asked about national security, City Administrator Todd Feland claimed, “there is no concern from a national security perspective.”

If all goes to plan, the construction could begin later this year, Feland added.

However, in July, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, who initially endorsed the project, began urging federal officials to look further into the project to ensure it would not threaten national security.

In a letter, he addressed US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to expedite a review of the Chinese project, stressing “our top priority is, and always will be, the safety and security of our citizen and our nation.”

“We ask that this review process be completed with the utmost urgency to aid Grand Forks officials in their decision-making process and provide clarity on whether this land purchase has national security implications,” he stated.

AP News reported that Burman’s letter came after a series of City Council meetings, which “have turned ugly” as weeks passed.

Meanwhile, the Chinese privately owned company voluntarily submitted a formal request for review to appease the raging debates.

“I think we’re caught into this nationwide rhetoric about concerns about the Chinese and what they may be doing, and we’ve become a symbol of that,” Feland remarked on the July news reports.

Moreover, he cited how it was rather “curious” that such sentiments had only recently surfaced, given that the University of North Dakota’s flight school in Grand Forks has already trained many Chinese pilots for decades, including those who eventually worked for Air China. What difference does it make, noting that the Fufeng Group Project is situated away from the aircraft manufacturing facility?

US Policymakers Seek More Info

Earlier this month, the Federal authorities working on the review of the Fufeng Group said it needed “more information” before it could proceed with the decision-making process, saying that the Chinese company had provided “insufficient” documents. On the other hand, the private company had been “open and cooperative” and vowed to abide by their request for additional information.

In this regard, Feland then commented that infrastructure work planned by the city to support the project would be halted until the review has been completed, which he estimated could take up to three months.

“I think it’s going to be one of the most highly scrutinized projects from a national security perspective through this process, which is good for everybody,” Feland said via AP News.

Fufeng Group Ltd. is the largest private-owned flavor enhancer and the second largest xanthan gum producer in Mainland China, with its headquarters in Shandong province. Besides flavor enhancers (monosodium glutamate) and xanthan gum, it also produces fertilizer, starch, and sugar substitute, as well as food and beverage, pharmaceutical, health and wellness, oil and gas, and other industries.

According to reports, Fufeng’s land procurement in the US is in line with the company’s mission to contribute to leveraging a looming grain shortage in the country, “including about 25 million metric tons (MMT) of staple food grain by the end of 2025.”

A recent US-China Economic and Security Review Commission report stated that Beijing could soon no longer cater to its growing demand for agricultural production due to “diminishing arable land, shifting demographics, and natural disasters” that contribute to the food security challenges. Despite introducing domestic policies such as promotion to lessen food waste and build self-sufficiency that reduces reliance on importation, this would still not be enough, which consequently look into investing overseas, including farmland procurement in the US.

Once the North Dakota site becomes a success, Fufeng Group plans to open several more in the future.