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A small town in Michigan sends a message to China – and Biden’s clean energy policies

Biden’s GOP critics, including former President Donald Trump, have clung to the claim that these programs are a gift to Beijing, whose companies dominate the global green technology supply chain. Last month, presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy joined residents opposed to the Michigan plant and focused his message on China.

It’s a winning message with some voters in crucial swing states, Tuesday’s result suggests — deflating the conventional wisdom that jobs equals inevitable victory at the polls.

“The voters’ voices have been heard,” the representative said. John Moolenaar (R-Mich.), whose district includes the proposed plant site in Green Charter Township. “People are in favor of jobs coming to their area, but not when there is a connection to the Chinese Communist Party.”

The election is raising concerns even among some Michigan Democrats, who say they have work to do to convince voters that Biden’s policies do not benefit Beijing or other foreign capitals.

“This is going to be a painful process as we try to reassure people” that Biden’s tax breaks for manufacturing don’t help foreign countries, the representative said. Dan Kildee, whose district of Michigan adjoins the proposed plant. “(Tax) exemptions for industrial facilities are always difficult. Globalization makes them more difficult.

Yet even as Democrats recognize the pitfalls of Biden’s industrial policy, Kildee and others say they must send the message that the president’s policies are creating jobs for Americans — despite individual factory owners . representative Debbie Dingell (D-Michigan) called the election result an “incident” in the state, but said it underscores the need to compete with China in the race to dominate the energy technologies of the future.

“We want to attract these jobs to Michigan, stay at the forefront of innovation and technology, but we have to understand what the challenges are,” she said. “And I’m working with everyone – environmentalists, the White House, the automakers, the unions, to keep us competitive. We therefore remain at the forefront. I’m not going to let China win this market.

The proposed plant in Green Charter Township has faced a wave of opposition since it was announced last year. The town’s seven-member board of trustees approved a tax abatement plan for Gotion Inc., which also received millions of dollars from the state.

Gotion has repeatedly insisted that the Chinese Communist Party has no presence in the North American company, although it is a subsidiary of Gotion High-tech Co., an international company founded in China. Opponents pointed to Gotion High-tech documents that include language allowing “carrying out Party activities.”

Tuesday’s vote ousted five of the township’s board members, all Republicans. Its two other members had resigned before the vote.

The Gotion project is just one of a handful of green energy facilities in the United States that have drawn ire from the Republican Party over its use of Chinese technology or its ties to China-based companies. Two hours south, Ford halted construction on its $3.5 billion BlueOval Battery Park Michigan project, which faced similar resistance from Congress over its plan to license the technology from a Chinese battery manufacturer.

In May, the Energy Department rejected a $200 million grant proposal for a Texas-based battery company called Microvast, which had drawn repeated attacks from Republican lawmakers because it has a subsidiary in China. This money would come from Biden’s bipartisan Infrastructure Act of 2021.

China supplies most of the parts and minerals used globally for electric cars, batteries, solar panels and wind turbines, posing a challenge to Biden’s goal of fostering a wave of green energy technologies and to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas pollution.

Biden promised that in the long term, his policies would create a domestic clean energy supply chain that would reduce U.S. dependence on China. But for now, some developers have found it necessary to use Chinese minerals or technology, giving their adversaries an opportunity to pounce.

This is an argument Gotion has been fighting against for months.

Chuck Thelen, Gotion Inc.’s vice president of North American manufacturing, said in a statement Wednesday that the company “does not engage in political posturing.” He added that the company will continue “to work tirelessly to deliver on our commitment to create 2,350 jobs in the state of Michigan while communicating factually and transparently with all regulatory agencies.”

The senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a longtime critic of Biden’s approach to Beijing, argued Wednesday that Chinese-owned companies “inevitably follow the directives of the Communist Party” — and that it is impossible for American companies to compete fairly with them.

“These Chinese companies are subsidized by the Communist Party. They will always be cheaper than anyone else,” Rubio said. “And we will never again be competitive in any of these areas, much less self-reliant, if we continue to allow them to game the system in this way.”

Moolenaar and GOP Rep. Darin LaHood of Illinois recently introduced the “NO GOTION law” prohibit companies affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party from receiving tax credits for green energy production under the Inflation Reduction Act. Gotion also plans a $2 billion electric vehicle lithium battery manufacturing plant in Illinois.

The bill is co-sponsored by 18 Republican lawmakers, including Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Select Committee on China.

Gotion called the bill misleading. Thelen said this would have no effect on Gotion’s Michigan facilities “as we are locating for the benefit of our valued North American customers and their goal of participating in IRA loans.”

Democratic Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer supported the Gotion project. His press secretary, Stacey LaRouche, highlighted community support Wednesday, as evidenced by local leaders’ votes to lock in the investment.

“Republicans have been waging a months-long campaign to eliminate 2,300 jobs in Mecosta County, one of the most economically distressed areas in the state,” she said. “We will not be distracted by politics and will continue to work with anyone to create good-paying jobs in every corner of Michigan.”

Many Midwestern Democrats on Capitol Hill echoed that sentiment. Even as they acknowledged the risks of Biden’s clean energy industrial policy, they joined Kildee and Dingell in urging their party to move forward despite the Gotion plant vote.

“If we spent our time worrying about how one tiny corner of a project could be used against us in the next campaign, we would never get anything done,” Rep. said. Sean Casten, an Illinois Democrat who works on energy issues. “I just think, do the right thing and then explain to people why you did it.”

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