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A relatively new national security issue has emerged in the past 6 months; one largely being addressed at the state level. State legislatures have moved to tackle the issue of America’s foreign adversaries acquiring land in the United States. While much of the media focus has been on the acquisition of agricultural land, the national security implications are far more multi-faceted.

In discussing foreign land ownership, it’s worth noting that the designation “foreign adversary” is defined in federal regulations as, “foreign governments or foreign non-government persons who have engaged in a long-term pattern or serious instances of conduct significantly adverse to the national security of the United States or security and safety of United States persons.”

The ongoing campaign is not some broadly protectionist or xenophobic movement. Canadian, German, and Italian firms all own millions of acres of U.S. farmland as part of our productive agricultural industry. Instead there is a recognition that land ownership by nations like Communist China, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Russia, and North Korea carry fundamentally different risks and challenges from commercial relations with friendly or allied nations.

The case of Chinese efforts to acquire U.S. land are perhaps most instructive on this point.

Communist China has been waging a highly unconventional conflict against the U.S. in the form of what People’s Liberation Army (PLA) doctrine terms “Unrestricted Warfare.” This has included:

  • A massive military build-up aimed at the U.S.,
  • Aggressive, dangerous, unprofessional maneuvers by PLA Air Force and Navy units,
  • Bellicose threats directed at the US and our allies,
  • State-sponsored, serial intellectual property theft,
  • Rampant espionage against both government and corporate targets,
  • Currency manipulation and unfair trade practices,
  • Violations of American airspace

Part of the “Unrestricted Warfare” doctrine includes strategic acquisitions by state-backed Chinese companies and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) members of US companies, real estate, and especially agriculture land.

China has been particularly active in attempting to acquire land in the US. From 2010 to 2020 Chinese ownership of US farmland increased from $81 million to $1.8 billion, including properties in North Dakota, Texas, North Carolina, Missouri, Florida, Utah, Virginia, Colorado and Oklahoma.

Every Chinese company—without exception—is majority owned or controlled by the Chinese Communist Party or the People’s Liberation Army. In other words, there is no distinction in China’s hybrid communist political and crony capitalist economic system. And while many Americans, especially business leaders, remain locked into an old paradigm that presupposes China’s willingness to reform its economic and political systems, the reality is that the Chinese regime in recent years has reasserted the importance of Maoism in its philosophy and policies, even to the point of declaring a Maoist renaissance.

Not coincidentally, Mao Zedong, was the biggest mass murderer of the 20th century, responsible for more deaths than Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot combined, and was well known for strategic use of famine against his opponents.

There have also been instances of Chinese nationals buying US land who are later discovered to be high-ranking members of the Chinese Communist Party. That is exactly what happened in Texas where a former officer in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and official in the Chinese Communist Party named Sun Guangxin acquired 140,000 acres of land in the same county as Laughlin Air Force Base, a major pilot training installation. That prompted the Texas legislature to block Sun’s project and in 2021 Governor Abbott of Texas to sign the Lonestar Infrastructure Protection Act into law to prevent such projects.

One might presume that the federal government is adequately managing such national security concerns. Unfortunately, the federal government’s response to this has been inconsistent at best.  When a Chinese entity sought to acquire a corn mill near Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota the Committee for Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS), which has a responsibility to examine and rule on potential national security implications of foreign investment, declined to weigh in. Fortunately, sanity prevailed when the US Air Force finally issued an official statement that stated that Chinese ownership of land in the immediate vicinity of the base was a threat to national security.

The language of many of these bills recognizes that when a foreign adversary like China makes a move to acquire land, it’s not the Chinese government signing contracts and agreements. It is done through holding companies, foreign cut outs and fronts.

Good legislation must be structured in such a way as to effectively police these activities and entities. Just as importantly, good legislation should hold harmless realtors, land title attorneys and landowners in such transactions and expressly not hold such private individuals and entities accountable to be the enforcement arm of government. That is a job appropriate for state attorney generals.

It has been speculated that it would be impossible to know if a foreign adversary moves to acquire land, but that is not necessarily so. Under existing law, foreign purchases of agriculture land, as an example, must be reported to the US Department of Agriculture, in recognition of the fact that foreign control of land and our food security is a major concern.

Critics have falsely claimed that these bills impact every foreign national or even every foreign national of a foreign adversary, or that they are racially discriminatory against Asian Americans. The ACLU has even sued the state of Florida over their version of the bill, alleging it discriminates against Asian immigrants. Yet most opponents either have not read the bills or else ignore that these bills, for the most part, do not apply to legal permanent residents in the United States. Furthermore, in several states Chinese dissidents have testified in support of bills restricting foreign adversary ownership of U.S. land, urging that more be done to confront the Chinese Communist Party and its horrendous human rights record. These brave dissidents recognize that it is because of China’s communist regime, and its behavior as a rogue state which makes it essential they not control any portion of our food security and not occupy or control land near US military installations.

Despite all of the attention focused on this issue recently due to China’s aforementioned actions, this is NOT an entirely new issue. According to the National Agriculture Law Center, 21 states already have restrictions or prohibitions against foreign land ownership. Others require permission for such purchases.

Among those states are: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

America needs government willing to prevent our potential adversaries from buying our arable land and to prevent those adversaries from controlling even a portion of our domestic food supply. We also need to prevent foreign adversaries from owning and occupying land near military installations. Unfortunately, we cannot depend upon Washington to protect us, which is why responsible state legislatures are acting.

Food security is national security. If Americans don’t act, China will.

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