BIG RAPIDS, Mich. (Michigan News Source) – Former Ambassadors Peter Hoekstra and Joseph Cella have sent a letter through the Michigan-China Economic and Security Review Group to the United States Assistant Attorney General for National Security, Matthew Olsen, and the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) Unit requesting an investigation of the engagements by various officials in the State of Michigan with Gotion, Inc. and its related companies, and whether they constitute violations of the FARA Act.
To protect the national security of the country, the U.S. government has strict reporting and disclosure requirement for those individuals advocating on behalf of foreign interests. The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) outlines the reporting requirements and serious consequences for those who fail to comply with the law. The ambassadors have serious concerns that a number of individuals advocating on behalf of this protect are potentially subject to FARA and are not complying with the law.
At issue is the Whitmer administration’s pursuit of battery manufacturers with CCP ties. In an op-ed by Hoekstra and Cella in the Daily Caller, they say that in their service as ambassadors, they learned how the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) are grave national security threats to our allies and the United States and are penetrating our shores beyond the eyes of the U.S. government.
They point to a meeting last year hosted by the Senate Intelligence Committee with officials from the U.S. National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC), the FBI and DHS (Dept. of Homeland Security) to advise and warn a bi-partisan group of state and local officials about the “nature, risks, and escalation of PRC and CCP influence operations.”
Additionally, the press release says, “Last Summer, in a first-ever joint appearance, FBI Director Christopher Wray and his MI5 British counterpart Ken McCallum delivered a warning about the grave national security threat to the West from China. Not long after their meeting, the unclassified bulletin from the NCSC was released, warning state and local leaders to guard themselves against PRC operations and refuse to sign agreements that run counter to U.S. national security and economic security, even if they appear to benefit a state or local government in the short term. They further recommended insisting on public and transparent terms for all such agreements and share such engagements with other local leaders and U.S. authorities.”
Hoekstra and Cella go on to say that Michigan Democratic Governor Whitmer is ignoring all of the warnings to pursue battery manufacturers with alleged CCP ties. They say, “Over the last year, Democrat Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) did the opposite, leading Republican and Democrat state legislators, county economic development corporations, and local governments, in the pursuit of CATL and Gotion, two PRC-based lithium ion battery manufacturers who maintain deep ties to the CCP, incentivizing them with over $4 billion in tax dollars from the citizens and business owners of Michigan. The subnational incursion presently happening in Michigan is unconscionable, and both a harbinger and a cautionary tale for the other 49 states in the Union.”
Whitmer has said in the past that taxpayer investments with Gotion and other battery plant manufacturers “will shore up our status as the global hub of mobility and electrification…We will work with anyone and compete with everyone to keep bringing supply chains of batteries, chips, and electric vehicles home to Michigan.”
Anyone. Even China.
The ambassadors point to a lack of transparency and important information that’s needed and has been missing from the Gotion Company and the Whitmer administration. They cite red flags including binding five-year- non-disclosure agreements and “secretive code words” for the projects. They also point to the state rushing the process and “sweetening the deal with separate pork barrel projects for legislators” instead of conducting “strict scrutiny and due diligence” by petitioning for a voluntary review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) through the Department of Treasury.
It’s the Michigan taxpayers who are on the hook for this – for at least $1.4 billion for the project code-named “Project Elephant.” The op-ed says, “Do Michigan taxpayers really want to send money to a country that violates human rights, performs human organ harvesting, embeds people in our universities to copy and send home research, or who steals our technology, manipulates their currency, and spies on our military installations? We don’t think so. But by the aggressive lobbying of Governor Whitmer and votes of Democrats and Republicans, they have a bi-partisan consensus totally out of step with the clear and present threat of these times, putting the PRC ahead of Michigan.”
Citizens in the communities of Green Charter Township and Big Rapids have been pushing back against the Gotion project, concerned about both environmental and national security issues. The Midwesterner has a video of an Iraq War vet at a meeting saying, “Why would you bring a communist company to Big Rapids, MI when we have troops mobilizing right now to fight China?”
Green Township board of trustee members had voted unanimously to support the Gotion project but just yesterday, hundreds of protesters showed up outside of Ferris State University to protest against the Gotion battery plant. These protesters showed up hours before a panel discussion hosted by the township involving Gotion, The Right Place in Grand Rapids (a regional economic development organization), The Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Consumers Energy, the County Road Commission and others involved in the project. Because of the protesters, the panel discussion was changed into a virtual event.
The protesters included State Rep. Angela Riggs as well as 2024 Republican presidential candidate Perry Johnson who said, “The number one problem we have is with China and we’re giving them billions of dollars to come and build a big factory. Can we at least go with an American company or at least one of our allies?”
Gotion executives and others defend the project by saying it will bring in more than 2,350 jobs to the Big Rapids area in the next 10 years.
Mary Engelsman, who was at the protest, told WZZM13, “There’s a lot of community members that have concerns: Environmental, health, the ownership of the company.” She wants the people involved in the project to take a step back from the July 2023 groundbreaking date. She said, “Let’s look, let’s see. Let’s have some studies done. Not just from one side but from both sides. Let’s back it up. Let’s stop. Let’s slow down.”
Hoekstra and Cella agree – and want more information on the project. In their press release, they say, “From the outset of this project, due diligence, strict scrutiny and transparency have been woefully lacking. Many legitimate questions from elected officials and citizens alike remain, particularly involving the national security threat presented by this company based in The People’s Republic of China (PRC) which maintains ties to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).”
They go on to say, “to advance the proposed project, officials in the State of Michigan who are directly engaged with Gotion, Inc. are shielding themselves from these questions through the binding and punitive five year non-disclosure agreements, justifying the secrecy on account of ‘competition’ saying they are ‘commonplace’ with such economic developments.”
The bottom line is that the ambassadors and those in the Big Rapids community are requesting more transparency from Gotion and the Whitmer administration. The ambassadors say, “The speed and secrecy which officials in the State of Michigan have operated with State and local leaders imperils our national security and must be given the strictest of scrutiny through both a CFIUS Review and an investigation to ascertain (if) FARA has been violated.”
Even though Center Square reported that a CFIUS review couldn’t move forward due to the non-disclosure agreement, Chuck Thelen, Gotion’s vice president of North American operations, confirmed at the virtual meeting that the project would undergo that review.
Part of the push against Gotion also comes from the new revelation that the company’s bylaws include articles that require the company to perform its duties in accordance with the CCP.
Center Square has reported that the many requirements in Gotion’s bylaws related to the CPP include a requirement to “Ensure and supervise the implementation of the Party’s guidelines, principles and policies in the Company, and implement major strategic decisions of the CPC Central Committee and the State Council as well as relevant important work arrangements of the Party organization at the higher level.”
During the virtual panel event, Thelen downplayed fears about that and said people have been “force fed a big fear sandwich” about the publicly held company. He added, “There is no communist plot within Gotion to make Big Rapids a center to spread communism.”