US lawmakers have called on the Biden administration to probe four Chinese companies involved in a $2-billion battery plant planned by Ford Motor in Michigan.
The lawmakers are concerned about Ford wanting to use technology supplied by Chinese battery maker CATL, plus the record of three other unnamed companies involved in the project.
A letter from the heads of two House committees said the four companies have direct ties to the Chinese military, Chinese Communist Party, plus the North Korean government and alleged human rights abuses in China’s Xinjiang region.
Representative Mike Gallagher, who chairs the select committee on China, and Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee, urged the Commerce Department to investigate and impose export restrictions on the four Chinese companies, which they said were involved in the “facility’s design, construction, and information technology (IT) processes.”
The Chinese companies were not named in the letter because the committees reviewed confidential records turned over by Ford and were not allowed to make their identities public.
Ford said on Monday it follows “all government regulations across our business” and added: “Ford suppliers are required to meet our higher standards, including for protecting human rights, and obligated to extend those requirements to suppliers with whom they might work.”
Concern on tax subsidies, dependency on Chinese tech
In September, the two lawmakers demanded documents from Ford tied to its CATL partnership and threatened to call CEO Jim Farley to testify before Congress.
The lawmakers in a letter released on Monday separately wrote to Farley asking the automaker “make available for an interview a company official who will be able to speak with us about the due diligence Ford conducted before and after it entered into the agreements with CATL.”
Republicans have been probing Ford’s battery plant plan for months over concerns it could facilitate the flow of US tax subsidies to China and leave Ford dependent on Chinese technology.
Ford says the battery plant is “wholly owned and operated” by the automaker.
The lawmakers said a Ford-CATL agreement puts a Beijing-based company in charge of preparing “the concept design” for the Michigan battery plant. The committee said the same Chinese company is providing engineering design services to China’s military.
IT firm linked to North Korea
The lawmakers separately wrote to the Treasury and State Departments asking them to investigate possible sanctions evasion activity by one of the Chinese companies that they said will be providing IT tools for the Michigan battery plant that has ties to North Korea.
“It is indefensible for Ford to use the same cloud integration and data provider that is linked to North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs sanctions evasion activity,” the letter said.
Treasury said in response it remains committed to combating North Korea’s “illicit revenue generation activities, from the use of overseas labourers to money laundering and cyber espionage.”
Human rights groups accuse Beijing of abuses against Xinjiang’s Uyghur inhabitants, including the mass use of forced labour in internment camps. China denies the allegations.
Ford in November dramatically scaled back its investment and capacity for the Michigan plant after it paused work two months earlier. Ford initially planned a $3.5 billion plant but now expects to invest $2 billion in its battery plant.
- Reuters with additional editing by Jim Pollard