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Red Potatoes: Investigating the Truth Behind China's Takeover of Idaho

What's the truth behind the rumors of China building its own city south of Boise?

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Since late 2010, a rumor has been circulating that the Chinese government, via a government-owned company, has purchased a 50-acre plot of land just south of Boise, upon which it will build a self-sustaining city.

As the Governor's Office and even Boise Mayor's Office fielded calls from riled-up constituents, right-wing power players like the John Birch Society spread the rumor as fact. The Idaho GOP even looked at a resolution, "Idaho as a China-Beachhead Withdrawal Resolution," to call on the state Legislature to look into the issue.

Despite numerous media reports shooting down the claims, the rumor persisted. We decided to have a little fun with the rumors. This comic is completely fictional, but it is based on the rumors.

Much of the conspiracy theory is based on Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's Project 60, a program designed to increase Idaho's gross domestic product to $60 billion per year. The three-tiered program includes building from within, domestic recruitment, and "inward foreign direct investment."

But Bibiana Nertney, marketing and communications administrator at the Idaho Department of Commerce, said that the idea is to get foreign companies to buy Idaho products and invest in Idaho.

She stressed that under U.S. law, foreign companies are required to hire local workers and cannot bring in foreign workers unless there are no qualified Americans. Additionally, every foreign worker must be approved for a work visa. All business--regardless of owner--must operate under local, state and federal law.

Theorists point to Otter's 2010 trade mission to China as the point at which the plot was hatched. But both Nertney and the Governor's Office stress the mission was about selling Idaho products in China. In fact, China is Idaho's third-largest trade partner, and the state is one of only three with a trade surplus with China.

One Chinese-based company, Hoku Materials, has a facility under construction near Pocatello. The polysilicon manufacturer has hired local workers and its products will be exported to China. The plant is scheduled to open in early 2012. Two other projects involving either Chinese companies or investors are also in the works: a fertilizer plant near Pocatello and a bus manufacturer.

The project that got the rumor mill spinning came from a meeting between the City of Boise and representatives of Sinomach, a Chinese state-owned engineering and construction company. Adam Park, spokesman for Mayor Dave Bieter, said they did take a meeting in November 2010, which considered about the possibility of a project in the industrial area south of the Boise Airport. But Park said the conversation was limited to very broad terms, and that city officials haven't heard from the group since then.

The bottom line is that no land has been purchased. As for the government beachhead idea, federal, state and local laws prevent any foreign government from creating a self-sustained, autonomous city in the United States.

--Deanna Darr

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