Executive at U.S. Battery Manufacturer Pictured at Chinese Communist Party Meetings

by Philip Lenczycki


A director of an American firm that’s building battery manufacturing plants in the U.S. has been pictured attending multiple Chinese Communist Party (CCP) meetings, according to a Daily Caller News Foundation review of the website of the firm’s China-based parent company.

Gotion Inc., the California-based subsidiary of Chinese battery manufacturer Gotion High-Tech Co. (Gotion High-Tech), is planning to build massive electric vehicle battery plants in Michigan and Illinois, both of which stand to benefit from taxpayer funding. Gotion Inc. Vice President Chuck Thelen has repeatedly denied any CCP ties, but a DCNF investigation found the company’s chief technology officer attended two CCP meetings in China.

Gotion Inc. Chief Technology Officer Steven Cai attended at least two meetings held by Gotion High-Tech’s internal CCP committee in 2022, the Chinese parent company’s website shows. Both meetings focused on studying and implementing CCP political directives within Gotion High-Tech, according to announcements on the firm’s website. During one meeting, executives watched a political speech delivered by CCP General Secretary and President of China Xi Jinping.

“If they’re attending Party committee meetings, they are, in all likelihood, a Party member,” John Dotson, deputy director of Global Taiwan Institute, told the DCNF. “If you’re attending the meetings, it’s because you’re supposed to be there.”

Thelen, for his part, has repeatedly denied any connections between Gotion Inc. and the CCP.

“Has the Communist Party penetrated this company? No,” Thelen said in April 2023, according to Michigan news outlet MLive.

Several months later, Politico reported Thelen saying “the Chinese Communist Party has no presence in the North American company.”

Gotion High-Tech, Gotion Inc., Cai and Thelen did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

‘The Spirit Of The Party’

In October 2022, Gotion High-Tech’s CCP committee held a special study session for the CCP’s 20th National Congress at the firm’s headquarters in China’s Anhui province, according to an announcement on the firm’s website.

A description of the meeting in Gotion High-Tech’s 2022 ESG report states that “[d]uring this time, the company’s Party committee group, Party cadre and Party representatives from each Party branch watched the opening ceremony, the closing ceremony spectacular, and earnestly listened to the reports Xi Jinping delivered.” That’s according to a DCNF translation of the Chinese-language document.

A photo accompanying the announcement shows that the Party committee meeting was held in a large auditorium with a movie theater-sized screen displaying Xi’s speech broadcast by Chinese state-run media outlet CCTV News. During the meeting, Cai sat next to the Gotion High-Tech Chairman and Party Secretary Li Zhen. Also pictured was Gotion High-Tech Party-Mass Work Department Director Wu Yibing and Gotion High-Tech Deputy Party secretary Wang Yonghai.

“At any mid-size to larger enterprise, expect that the senior management are dual-hatted as CCP committee members,” Dotson said. “In cases where there’s a foreign subsidiary of a major Chinese company, the same basic rules apply.”

In October 2022, Gotion High-Tech’s Party committee held a CCP study session. Among those in attendance were: 1) Wu Yibing, director of Party-Mass Work Department; 2) Wang Yonghai, deputy Party secretary; 3) Li Zhen, Party secretary; and 4) Steven Cai, chief technology officer. [Image created by the DCNF using screenshots from Gotion High-Tech’s website and social media account]
The following month, Gotion High-Tech’s internal CCP committee convened another meeting to “earnestly study and comprehend the spirit of the Party’s 20th Congress, as well as research and lay out the work implementation plan for each grassroots Party group level,” according to a November 2022 announcement.

During the meeting, Cai sat in front of a large, red hammer and sickle flag, a photo on the Gotion High-Tech’s website shows. Gotion High-Tech Provincial and Municipal Party Representative Yang Maoping and Wang Yonghai also attended the November 2022 meeting.

“Every Party group at our enterprise will study, publicize and carry out the spirit of the Party’s 20th National Congress as an important task,” Li Zhen said during the meeting, according to Gotion High-Tech’s website.

As the DCNF previously reported, Gotion High-Tech’s 2022 ESG internal report indicates the China-based firm employs 923 CCP members overseen by a Party committee, which is the largest grassroots CCP organization. In addition to Gotion High-Tech’s internal Party committee, the firm also hosts “two CCP general branches and 11 Party branches,” according to its 2022 ESG report.

Gotion High-Tech’s 2022 annual report identifies Steven Cai as Gotion Inc.’s chief technology officer. Separately, Cai is listed as a Gotion Inc. director in California and Michigan business filings. Likewise, Gotion Inc.’s Chief Operating Officer Peter Willemsen identifies Cai as the company’s CTO in a December 2022 LinkedIn post.

Cai is not listed on Gotion Inc.’s Illinois business filing, but was photographed standing beside Gotion High-Tech executives and Democratic Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker at the September 2023 launch of Gotion Inc.’s Illinois plant.

Gotion High-Tech’s website also lists Cai as the Chinese firm’s “director and deputy general manager.”

‘Party Committee’

Gotion Inc. is building a $2.4 billion electric vehicle battery plant in Big Rapids, Michigan and a $2 billion plant in Manteno, Illinois.

The by-laws for Gotion High-Tech’s Party committee, which are detailed within the firm’s Articles of Association, say their CCP committee must “supervise the implementation of the Party’s guidelines” and lead “ideological,” “political” and “United Front work.”

So-called “United Front work” is a “unique blend of engagement, influence activities and intelligence operations that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) uses to shape its political environment, including to influence other countries’ policy toward the PRC and to gain access to advanced foreign technology,” according to the House Select Committee on the CCP.

In January 2024, during a House Select Committee on the CCP hearing, former CIA Director Leon Panetta said the CCP would undoubtedly use the U.S.-based Gotion Inc. “for their own intelligence purposes.”

In November 2022, Gotion High-Tech’s Party committee held a CCP study session. Among those in attendance were: 1) Yang Maoping, provincial and municipal Party representative; 2) Wang Yonghai, deputy Party secretary; 3) Li Zhen, Party secretary; and 4) Steven Cai, chief technology officer. [Image created by the DCNF using screenshots from Gotion High-Tech’s website and social media account]
In addition to employing hundreds of CCP members, Gotion High-Tech has also run company field trips to CCP memorials where employees wore matching Red Army uniforms.

Gotion Inc. also hosts a so-called “Overseas Talent Work Station” within the firm’s California headquarters, which was established by a visiting CCP delegation in 2017. The Overseas Talent Work Station aims “to carry out Anhui province’s talent recruitment work,” the head of the visiting CCP delegation stated at its launch, according to a Gotion High-Tech announcement.

“CCP-tied Gotion, and its appendage in California, Gotion USA, are one and the same when it comes to the mandates of the CCP in Gotion’s Articles of Association,” Joseph Cella, a former U.S. ambassador and co-founder of the Michigan-China Economic and Security Review Group, told the DCNF.

“In order for the Gotion ‘deal’ to get this far and survive, it involved lying and pretending,” Cella told the DCNF. “The light of truth is blazing down on this lie, and one way or another, it will crumble.”

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Philip Lenczycki is a reporter at Daily Caller News Foundation.
Photo “Gotion” by Gotion.





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