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Communist Plant? (Part II)

Gotion vs. the Grassroots


[Part II of a two-part series on a proposed CCP-linked battery works in the Midwest.]



As examined in Part I of this series, in Michigan, a battle is underway over a proposed electric vehicle (EV) battery components facility in Green Charter Township, a rural hamlet in Mecosta County, roughly 60 miles north of Grand Rapids.


Billed as "the biggest ever economic development project in Northern Michigan," the $2.36 billion plant promises to generate 2,350 jobs by the time it is fully operational in 2031, and to solidify the state as a "green" energy hub.


With an eye to the economic benefits — and votes — such an investment could bring, a majority of Michigan lawmakers are backing the project. With construction slated to begin later this year, more than $800 million in incentives have been earmarked for the venture, including a 30-year tax abatement worth nearly $640 million, as well as a pair of grants totaling $175 million.


But, in spite of the windfall the facility could deliver, many Michiganders are fighting to prevent it from moving forward, as they fear the plant could serve as a conduit for Communist treachery.


The developer of the project, Gotion, Inc., is a Silicon Valley-based subsidiary of Chinese parent company, Gotion High-Tech — also known as Guoxuan High-Tech.


Multiple analyses have revealed that Guoxuan is deeply influenced by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), with top shareholders and internal leaders tethered in various ways to the subversive, anti-American body.


'No Communist Plot'


Not long after the development plan was announced in October 2022, the uncovering of Guoxuan's ties to the CCP sparked dissent among a growing number of Michigan residents.


As a result, on April 3, 2023, Green Charter Township's board of trustees convened a public forum to address concerns about the project. Owing to concerns over potential citizen protests, community officials decided to make it an online, rather than in-person, event.


During the discussion, Chuck Thelen, vice president of Gotion Inc. North American Manufacturing, dismissed concerns over Guoxuan's CCP connections, saying residents of Mecosta County were being "force-fed a big fear sandwich."


"There is no Communist plot within Gotion," he insisted, and the factory will not serve as "a center to spread Communism."


"Has the Communist Party penetrated this company? No." Thelen declared.


But despite Thelen's assurances to the contrary, throughout 2023, as Part I of this series illustrated, evidence continued to mount that the influence of the CCP extends to the very heart of Guoxuan High-Tech.

Race to the Finish


Even so, as 2023 progressed, the pace of project development began to quicken.


On June 13, Gotion announced that the US Treasury Department had absolved itself of responsibility for scrutinizing the project, with federal officials declaring they had no authority to review the development — a contention that infuriated opponents of the plan.


"Today's announcement from Gotion is not an approval ... but another example of the broken ... process where the government claims deals are outside its jurisdiction," said GOP Congressman John Moolenaar, who represents Michigan's 2nd Congressional District — home to Green Charter Township — and currently chairs the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party.


On Aug. 1, Gotion announced it had finalized the purchase of 270 acres of land for its plant, marking a major step forward for the initiative.


"We are excited to see them come because we are excited to see what this type of a project will bring as an opportunity for our community," said Green Charter Township Supervisor Jim Chapman, head of the community's board of trustees. "It is not a case of what the plant is or what the corporation is, it's a matter of what that kind of opportunity means to the township, to our community, and to the region in general."


On Aug. 23, the firm concluded a development agreement with the board; all seven trustees voted to approve the measure, pushing Gotion's project into high gear.


"This agreement represents a good-faith contract that will help guide the development and ongoing function of Gotion Inc.'s proposed facility in Green Charter Township," said Thelen. "I want to thank the Township Board and especially Supervisor Chapman for his leadership in helping to formulate the bilateral agreement that will guide the project to a successful launch."


On Oct. 10, the board voted to approve options to extend water service to the proposed plant site — an undertaking expected to cost between $13 million and $15.5 million.


Shortly thereafter, Thelen declared in a letter to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) that the venture was essentially a "done deal."


'Say No'


But even as Gotion celebrated such milestones, the backlash against the project was growing.


In the spring of 2023, various factors — angst over the CCP menace, frustration with unresponsive community leaders, suspicion at the lack of transparency surrounding the deal, and disgust at the incentives thrown Gotion's way — coalesced to spur opponents into action.


On April 5, hundreds of people gathered in Big Rapids, seat of Mecosta County, to protest the initiative. In a town of just 7,700, hundreds of demonstrators assembled along the town's main thoroughfare, sporting signs reading "Say No to Gotion."


Over the next few months, resentment of the plan continued to build among Green Charter Township residents. In June, a group of them joined together to launch a petition to recall members of the board for giving the Gotion project an easy go-ahead:


"[The] Green Charter Township Board voted unanimously to adopt a motion to approve Gotion's development in Green, with no public input and very little public notice. These board members must be recalled and replaced, not just to stop the Gotion project, but to send a message to our elected officials that they must represent the will of the people."

On Nov. 7, residents headed to the polls to have their say. By day's end, the results were clear: The citizens of Green Charter Township had succeeded in their recall bid, delivering a stunning rebuke to local facilitators of the project. Voters ousted every member of the incumbent board, and elected new representatives — citizens less inclined to rubberstamp project agreements — to take their place.


Savoring the victory, petition organizer Lori Brock said afterward that she was "thrilled beyond belief" with the vote. "This recall shows how the community did not want this," she said of the Gotion plan. "This just means we have a voice again. We may be small, but we are powerful."


Brock's sentiments were echoed by those of Green Charter Township's new chief, Supervisor Jason Kruse. In a statement to Britain's The Daily Mail, Kruse vowed that Gotion "can be stopped, 100 percent. There's a lot of holes that can be pulled apart and we can dissect this project."


Likewise, incoming board member Jeff Thorne rejected claims that the plant is a "done deal," calling them "hogwash."


"I've had a number of people ask me this locally: 'Don't you think no matter what you do, it's going to happen anyway?'" he told The Daily Mail. "I tell them, 'no'. I wouldn't be in this fight. I wouldn't be involved in this if I thought it was fruitless, if it was a done deal. There are a lot of things that can be done."


Meanwhile, alarmed by the escalating blowback to its plan, Gotion enlisted the aid of lobbying firms Mercury Public Affairs and the Vogel Group in a bid to shore up its increasingly embattled public image. By year's end, the company would spend almost $300,000 promoting its cause to lawmakers in Washington.


A New Sheriff in Town


The new Green Charter Township board held its inaugural session on Nov. 14, and immediately set to work scrutinizing the Gotion project.


During the meeting, members resolved to rescind the October resolution, passed by their pro-Gotion predecessors, backing various options to extend water service to the proposed factory site, arguing it was improperly executed.


Less than three weeks later, at their Dec. 3 meeting, trustees voted to overturn another resolution, adopted a year earlier by the pro-Gotion board, declaring official township support for the project.


"I'm elected to be a no-Gotion guy," Kruse told Bridge Michigan the following day, pledging that the board would "challenge Gotion to make sure the deal is square if it needs to go through."


Failing that, he said, "the deal goes away."


Security Chiefs Slam Communist Ties


The new year brought a new reminder of the Guoxuan-Communist threat — this time, from leaders on both sides of the aisle.


On Jan. 30, a pair of top-level intelligence officials stepped forward to reinforce concerns over the project.


During a meeting of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Community Party, Leon Panetta, who served as CIA Director (2009-2011) and Secretary of Defense (2011-2013) during the Obama Administration, warned Washington lawmakers that the CCP could be expected to exploit the proposed Gotion plant as a vehicle for espionage:


"I don't think there's any question that they're going to take advantage of that situation ... And I think we have to be very vigilant about what the hell is going on. That's just the way they operate. They'll establish a manufacturing unit, they'll establish whatever they can, and then they will use that for their own intelligence purposes. They will use that for their own economic purposes. They'll use it to be able to gain the kind of advantages that are counter, frankly, to the interests of the United States."

Also present at the hearing was Mike Pompeo, who served as CIA Director (2017-2018) and Secretary of State (2018-2021) under the Trump Administration. Like Panetta, Pompeo forecast that the Gotion plant will invite trouble from the CCP.


"I think it is worse than the fact that they will engage in espionage. I think that's just top of the list," Pompeo warned. "They will use this in ways that will leverage Chinese advantage. These plants are deeply dangerous to our national security and ought not be built."


The following day, Christopher Wray, FBI director since 2017, echoed these concerns in his own testimony before the House Select Committee. When asked specifically about the Gotion project, Director Wray responded:


"[A] lot of this ultimately traces back to the blurry, if not nonexistent line between the Chinese government and its private sector and the Chinese government's ability to, should they choose to leverage that authority, that reach, that access in a way that undermines our national security. Which is why acquisitions, buying land, buying businesses and so forth, while maybe legal, can still raise national security concerns because it provides a vehicle for them, if they want to leverage that access, to conduct surveillance or other operations that undermine our national security."

Lawmakers Sound the Alarm


Following the testimony of Panetta, Pompeo and Wray, on Feb. 14, Michigan state senators Jonathan Lindsey (R-Allen) and Lana Theis (R-Brighton) issued a joint press release calling on Gov. Whitmer to pull the project's funding.


"National security experts from both sides of the aisle have sounded the alarm about China's attempts to infiltrate and compromise our safety through industrial espionage," said Sen. Lindsey. "Yet, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer continues to ignore their warnings and further place our state and nation at risk — while using taxpayer dollars to do so."


"The Whitmer administration has irresponsibly ignored concerns from local residents and calls from a bipartisan group of state and federal officials about the grave dangers this project poses," said Sen. Theis, R-Brighton. "Using taxpayer funds to invite foreign adversaries in the name of partisan green energy initiatives is reprehensible and cannot continue."


Such appeals have fallen on deaf ears inside the governor's mansion in Lansing. Whitmer and her allies have responded with silence, and are allowing the Gotion plan to proceed.


In fact, on the very day that Sens. Lindsey and Theis issued their warning, Gotion began clearing trees from the factory site, in preparation for construction later this year.


Into the Courts


In late winter, Green Charter Township landed a one-two punch against Gotion.


On Feb. 8, the board passed a resolution to create a Township Planning Commission, with power to introduce restrictions on the Gotion plant. Speaking later to Michigan journal The Midwesterner, Kruse indicated the commission's first task, once it went live on April 27, would be to require Gotion to file a site plan with Green Charter Township.


On March 1, Gotion presented a site plan to the Mecosta County Planning Commission, commencing a 60-day review process by the county. But at the commission's March 7 meeting, Kruse submitted a letter by Green Charter Township attorneys asking county officials to halt all reviews of Gotion's plan.


"We are asking the Mecosta County planning and zoning to not process anything having to do with Gotion, as a matter of fact, anything else regarding planning and zoning in Green Township, because we are going to take back our zoning and are working on putting our planning commission together," Kruse said, indicating the community would sue if the County Commission proceeded with the Gotion site plan review.  


The move was strategically significant. As soon as Green Charter Township's planning commission came online April 27, it would wield immediate authority over zoning for the plant. In other words, the community would be able to enact its own ordinances regulating the Gotion project before the Mecosta County Planning Commission met on May 1 to finalize their review of the company's plan.


Green Charter Township's ongoing resistance proved to be too much for Gotion. Fed up with board pushback, on March 15, the company filed suit against the community in federal court, alleging breach of contract over the extension of water service to its plant.


"This case presents a simple breach of contract claim arising from the unlawful actions of the new members of the Green Charter Township Board, the majority of whom are motivated by admitted anti-Gotion animus," the company's brief stated. "Whereas the new Board immediately withdrew the Township's welcome mat for the manufacturer, including putting in place a Township Planning Commission that will assume its duties next month withdrawing the previous Board's approval to connect the Gotion plant to the City of Big Rapids' water system, Gotion is left with no choice but to seek this Court's intervention."


Afterward, Kruse issued a statement responding to the legal complaint:

"On Friday, our Township was served with a federal lawsuit by Gotion, Inc. We are saddened and disappointed by their decision to proceed in this direction, As Township Supervisor, my number one concern is protecting the interests of the people of Green Charter Township, and we will vigorously defend our township's position in this matter. We might be a small community, but we refuse to be bullied."

Foes of the Gotion plan were dealt a setback on May 17, when Judge Jane M. Beckering of the US District Court for the Western District of Michigan ruled that members of the board must abide by the development agreement approved by their predecessors, while litigation continues between Gotion and Green Charter Township.


Beckering rejected the board's position that the agreement was improperly executed, and noted that Gotion, which has already sunk millions of dollars into the development, could suffer irreparable financial damage if it were not allowed to proceed.


"The significant monetary and contractual harms Gotion would suffer if the project, an extensive undertaking with coordinated construction processes, were to continue to be delayed qualify as irreparable injury," Beckering wrote.


Gotion executive Thelen hailed the order, saying the company looked forward "to working with the township to move the project forward."


Supervisor Kruse, meanwhile, indicated that the board was reviewing the ruling, and had not yet decided whether it would file an appeal.


"We're just disappointed at this time," he said.


And that is where the Mecosta County melee stands, as of press time. It remains to be seen which party will ultimately win out in the fight over the lithium battery components plant — the citizens of Green Charter Township; or Gotion, Guoxuan and the CCP.


Writer, editor and producer Stephen Wynne has spent the past seven years covering, from a Catholic perspective, the latest developments in the Church, the nation and the world. Prior to his work in journalism, he spent eight years co-authoring “Repairing the Breach,” a book examining the war of worldviews between Christianity and Darwinism. A Show-Me State native, he holds a BA in Creative Writing from Pepperdine University and an Executive MBA from the Bloch School of Business at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.


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