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Michigan town divided over plan for Chinese-owned factory

GREEN CHARTER TOWNSHIP (NewsNation) — Green Charter Township is normally a quiet place where everyone gets along. The rural community of 3,200 is about an hour north of Grand Rapids, Michigan with sprawling farmland as far as the eye can see.

But recently, that tranquility has turned to rage amid plans to bring a Chinese-owned company to the area.

“China is our number one enemy!” one man yelled at a recent board meeting. “You don’t care, do you?”

Watch NewsNation’s full report from Green Charter Township tonight at 6pm ET on “Elizabeth Vargas Reports.Not sure where to find NewsNation? Here’s how to watch.

The township board meeting was so crowded that it had to be moved outside so residents could express their dismay at a project by Gotion Inc., whose parent company is based in China.

“My family members fought communism and you’re bringing it right here,” another woman said to the town’s seven board members.

So far, the board appears to support the company’s plan to build a massive electric vehicle battery plant. They say it’s a $2 billion investment that would bring more than 2,000 jobs to the area.

Resident Lori Block says many nearby property owners have agreed to sell their land to the Chinese-owned company and neighbors feel betrayed.

“This is not the way it should be,” said Block. “This is all zoned agriculture here.”

“I don’t want to see a scenario where we are feeding the hand that is biting us,” added neighbor Larry Finkbiner.

NewsNation reviewed Gotion Inc.’s corporate documents and noted a particularly alarming clause.

“The company shall set up a party organization and carry out party activities in accordance with the constitution of the Communist Party of China. The company shall ensure necessary conditions for carrying out party activities,” one document read.

Gotion Inc. did not respond to NewsNation’s request for comment but recently addressed the clause at a virutal town hall.

“Has the Communist Party penetrated this company? No,” said Chuck Thelen, the company’s Vice President of North American operations. “Do we have articles of incorporation that require a specific paragraph or you don’t do business in the country of China? Yes, but it’s not a corporate culture.”

Chinese companies aren’t just buying land in Michigan. Over the past five years, Chinese ownership of American land has increased 55%. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), more than 383,000 acres of U.S. farmland is now owned by Chinese entities.

There are other conflicts of interest concerns. One of the town board members, Dale Jernstadt, won’t say whether he is selling his land to the Chinese-owned company.

When NewsNation asked Jernstadt if he had a contract with Gotion Inc. for his land, he replied: “I don’t know yet.”

Residents are worried about national security as well. The planned factory would be built about 100 miles from Camp Grayling, where the Michigan National Guard is training the Taiwan military.

NewsNation asked U.S. Rep John Moolenaar (R-District 2) whether the federal government should have more control over projects involving foreign adversaries.

“I have supported legislation that would ban farmland from being purchased by entities related to the Chinese communist party,” said Moolenaar. “I have come out and said I don’t think it’s a good project.”

Despite those concerns, the final decision about the plan ultimately comes down to the Township Board. Although, this week Gotion Inc. suffered a setback when the state of Michigan delayed grants worth $175 million.

Several state lawmakers say they still have questions about the project.

It’s hard to know just how many locals have agreed to sell their land to Gotion. Those who have done so agreed to sign non-disclosure agreements which prevent them from discussing the contracts.

In some cases, neighbors say they were given just four hours to make a decision about selling their property and the offers can come in at two or three times market value.