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Multiple US States Enforce Bans on Chinese Farmland Purchases

The acquisition of land in the United States by China is emerging as a significant issue, prompting state and federal politicians to intensify their efforts in response to perceived threats from Beijing.

Shivam Dwivedi
Multiple US States Enforce Bans on Chinese Farmland Purchases (Photo Source: VOA)
Multiple US States Enforce Bans on Chinese Farmland Purchases (Photo Source: VOA)

According to a report by The Hill, Chinese ownership of US farmland has surged fivefold over the past decade, based on data from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). The figures reveal that Chinese ownership has increased from 69,000 acres in 2011 to nearly 384,000 acres in 2021, constituting approximately 1 percent of the total 3 percent of US farmland owned by foreign nationals.

In recent months, lawmakers in over two dozen states have either passed or considered legislation aimed at restricting Chinese purchases of US farmland. Former President Trump has also expressed his determination to take action if he returns to the White House, pledging to ban Chinese investors from acquiring US farmland and critical infrastructure.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed multiple bills this month that prohibit Chinese citizens from buying land in the state. Similarly, the North Carolina House passed a bill last month that would ban "foreign adversaries" from purchasing agricultural land and land within a 25-mile radius of military installations. The Texas Senate also recently passed a bill that would prohibit Chinese citizens from buying property.

Efforts to block Chinese purchases of farmland are not limited to the state level. A bipartisan group of senators introduced the PASS Act, a bill that seeks to prevent nationals from China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea from buying US agricultural land or investing in American agricultural businesses. Additionally, specific legislation focusing on the Chinese government has been proposed, such as an amendment to the Republican's energy bill passed by the House, which prohibits the Chinese Communist Party from purchasing US farmland or land used for renewable energy.

Chinese ownership of US farmland has experienced uneven growth over the past decade. The majority of the increase occurred in 2013 when the Chinese company WH Group acquired Smithfield Foods, the largest pork producer in the US. Following that acquisition, Chinese-owned farmland remained relatively stable until 2019. Between 2019 and 2021, Chinese-owned farmland expanded by over 136,000 acres, primarily through acquisitions by US companies with Chinese shareholders.

The recent Republican majority in the House of Representatives has emphasized China as a central focus, establishing a select committee on ‘Strategic competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party.’ Representative Dan Newhouse, a Republican member of the committee, has repeatedly introduced legislation to prevent the Chinese government from purchasing US agricultural land. Former Trump national security adviser H.R. McMaster, who testified at a hearing, expressed agreement that this issue is a cause for concern, stating that the Chinese government is striving to make US agriculture dependent on China.

However, a 2021 analysis by the bipartisan Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) suggests that foreign purchases of US agricultural land do not pose a major threat to US food security. Despite this analysis, Newhouse's press secretary, Mike Marinella, highlighted the need for concern about future implications, even though Chinese investors currently own a relatively small portion of American farmland.

Another area of concern pertains to Chinese land acquisitions near military infrastructure. In 2021, Texas lawmakers passed legislation to prevent a Chinese billionaire-owned company from constructing a wind farm on 15,000 acres of ranchland near a US Air Force base. Similarly, Chinese food manufacturer Fufeng Group purchased 300 acres of farmland near Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota to establish a corn mill, a move the Pentagon deemed a threat to national security.

Eric Chutorash, the chief operating officer of Fufeng Group's US subsidiary, denied any security risks, asserting that the publicly traded company is unaffiliated with the Chinese government. Nevertheless, the Grand Forks City Council unanimously voted to block the project in February.

Critics of efforts to restrict Chinese purchases of US farmland argue that such measures could contribute to anti-Asian sentiments. During a House Appropriations Committee hearing last year, Representative Grace Meng voiced criticism against an amendment proposed by Newhouse that would ban companies wholly or partially owned by the Chinese government from acquiring US farmland. Meng expressed concern that singling out China would perpetuate rising anti-Asian hate.

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