Richmond Times-Dispatch: Warner, Spanberger warn about Chinese Communist Party influence


Two prominent Virginia Democrats are voicing concerns about the influence of the Chinese Communist Party on companies investing in the United States — from high-technology industries to agriculture.

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th, raised similar concerns on Thursday to those made by Gov. Glenn Youngkin. But they stopped short of supporting the Republican governor’s sudden decision to pull Virginia out of competition for a Ford Motor Co. project expected to invest $3.5 billion in an electric vehicle battery factory in partnership with a Chinese company that specializes in the technology.

Warner, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, declined to comment on Youngkin’s decision to drop a bid to bring the Ford project to the Berry Hill megasite in Pittsylvania County, but he also emphasized the national security risks raised by the Chinese government’s control over its companies that do business in the U.S. and other countries.

“I have huge concerns about the Chinese Communist Party’s influence on many of the companies coming from China,” he said in a regularly scheduled conference call with regional media organizations in Virginia.

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“I don’t think we need sever all ties with China,” he said. “We have to figure out ways we can work with China, but we need to recognize that the Chinese Communist Party has undue influence … over Chinese companies.”

Youngkin has defended his decision to withdraw Virginia from bidding on the Ford project because of the role of Contemporary Amperex Technology Co., Limited, or CATL, a Chinese company that has patented the battery technology that the new factory would use.

In his State of the Commonwealth address to the General Assembly this month, the governor also said he is committed to preventing Chinese acquisition of farmland in Virginia, while not providing specific examples of it happening.

Critics have questioned whether Youngkin is acting on real concerns or attempting to match similar moves by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is a potential rival for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024.

Spanberger, who touts her role as the only Virginian on the House Agriculture Committee, is a co-sponsor of bipartisan legislation introduced in Congress on Wednesday to expand the role of agricultural interests on the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which vets companies that could pose national security risks because of influence by other countries. Rep. Ben Cline, R-6th, is a co-sponsor of the bill.

“Direct foreign investment in American agriculture and infrastructure has skyrocketed — and the Chinese Communist Party has driven much of its growth,” Spanberger said in a news release on Thursday. “In the face of significant foreign investment in American farmland, we need to recognize how foreign actors could pose potential threats to our economic strength, the competitiveness of our ag industry, and our national security.”

Spanberger, a former CIA case officer, said in a separate statement that she shares Warner’s concern about protecting emerging 5G telecommunications networks from influence by the Chinese company Huawei, as well as lessening dependence on China for “lifesaving pharmaceuticals — like penicillin.”

However, she called on Youngkin — who campaigned vigorously but unsuccessfully for her Republican opponent in November — to be clear “about the specific threats and ties to the CCP that his administration may have encountered before blocking the [Ford] factory from coming to Virginia.”

“This information will help other elected officials make informed decisions down the road,” Spanberger said in comments to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “Additionally, I look forward to learning more about how Governor Youngkin intends to prioritize economic development and job growth in Southside, as well as all areas of the commonwealth, including for the Virginians I represent.”

Warner said the debate about Chinese purchase of farmland in North Dakota is less about the land than the location. “If that farmland happens to be adjacent to a military installation, I think it raises questions.”

He also said the challenge for the U.S. is to regain its footing in critical industries, such as semiconductor chips, electric vehicle batteries and solar energy, while getting ahead in other technologies.

“We’re going to dig into this in a meaningful way, so we’re not chasing the horses after they’re out of the barn,” Warner said.

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