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Michigan lawmaker probing whether Whitmer-backed Chinese clean energy firm working with Taliban

The energy giant has already made headlines for its deep ties with the Chinese Communist Party, but a top executive denies any affiliation with lithium-rich Afghanistan.

Published: April 18, 2023 11:07pm

Updated: April 19, 2023 1:18am

A Michigan lawmaker is probing whether a Chinese-owned clean energy firm that Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer wants to support with state tax dollars is seeking a deal with the Taliban government in Afghanistan for rights to mine the nation's vast deposits of lithium.

The mineral is a key input in lithium-ion batteries, a component central to the manufacture of defining products of the 21st century high-tech economy, including cell phones, laptops and electric and hybrid vehicles. 

Gotion Inc. is a subsidiary of Gotion High-Tech, "one of the earliest enterprises engaged in the independent research and development, production and sales of new energy vehicle power lithium-ion batteries in China," according to the China-based parent company's website. In 2014, Gotion expanded to the U.S. for battery research and development. 

In October, Whitmer announced "Project Elephant," a plan for Gotion to build a $2.3 billion battery plant in Big Rapids, Mich., calling it a "transformational investment." Whitmer aimed to grant Gotion hundreds of millions of dollars of state incentives, but the funding was paused after pushback over the company’s China ties.

The pushback grew last week after a reported meeting in Afghanistan to discuss Chinese access to the nation's vast lithium reserves.

On Thursday, executives of a Chinese company met with Afghan Minister of Minerals and Petroleum Shahabuddin Delawar, a senior leader of the Taliban, and offered a $10 billion investment for access to Afghanistan's lithium deposits. The company was identified as "Gochin" on the ministry's website​​​​​.

Shahabuddin Delawar meets with "Gochin" represnatives from China.

The ministry's announcement of the Chinese offer reads, in translation:

"The representative of the company thanked the leadership of the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum and asked for investment in the Latim Mines sector of Afghanistan and said that he wants to invest $10 billion in the Lithium Mines of Afghanistan, which will provide employment for more than 120,000 people directly and one million people indirectly." 

Michigan Republican State Sen. Lana Theis and four other state legislators penned a letter to U.S. senators and House members Tuesday urging federal invesitigation of these potential ties. 

"We are writing to urge you to use all legal federal resources available to immediately investigate whether Gotion High-tech Co., Ltd. as registered on the Swiss Stock Exchange has ties or contracts with foreign countries that have an adversarial relationship with the United States of America," the state lawmakers wrote. 

Vice President for Gotion's North America office Chuck Thelen denied that the company in question is associated with "any of [Gotion's] affiliates," according to Big Rapids Pinoeer.

“I understand there is a senator that is going to make a bunch of noise with a press release and is going to reference this... we are not working with the Taliban," he said. 

Theis told the Just The News that continuing state assistance with Gotion is a "national security risk" and that the announcement in Afghanistan needs to be investigated to confirm whether that company is the same as the one Whitmer is luring to Michigan.

"It is absolutely necessary that this is fully researched before we make any commitments or send any money," Theis said via email. 

Theis said it was her duty to "do due diligence" in investigating where state taxpayer dollars are going.

"As a legislator spending taxpayer dollars it is my responsibility to do due diligence before we spend taxpayer dollars," she said. "As I have done today I will continue to bring up any concerns or issues related to the Gotion project." 

Theis said the state "should not send taxpayers dollars to any organization that allies with adversarial countries, who wish to harm the United States of America." 

Former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Pete Hoekstra, who alerted Just the News to the concerns about the Taliban deal, said he was troubled by the revelations regardless of whether the deal in Afghanistan involves the same firm as Michigan or not.

"This is one more major red flag," he said. "Michigan is investing in a company with ties to the CCP, the CCP is negotiating with the Taliban to control lithium coming out of Afghanistan, regardless of whether the companies involved are one in the same or not, Michigan is fueling the CCP's march to EV global battery dominance."

Gotion's deep ties to the Chinese Communist Party have already sparked outrage in Big Rapids, where the company planned to establish a plant. Documents reviewed by Just The News confirm that Gotion's Shanghai-based parent company is inseparably connected to CCP interests.

Gotion High-Tech's Articles of Association reads as follows:

"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." 

Gotion also publishes a yearly environmental, social and governance (ESG) report to its website in which it boasts of its social responsibility. In its ESG report for 2021, the company touts its "[p]arty-building activities" undertaken to "celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China” and boasts of its selection as an "Outstanding Communist Party Member" in 2021. 

Just The News reached out to Gov. Whitmer's office and multiple state senators, but none responded immediately with comment.

Gotion did not respond to multiple inquiries from Just The News.

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