Washington: China purchasing US farmland is becoming a major issue as politicians at the state and federal level ramp up their fight against perceived threats from Beijing, The Hill reported.
Chinese ownership of US farmland has increased fivefold over the past decade, according to US Department of Agriculture (USDA) data, from 69,000 acres in 2011 to almost 384,000 acres in 2021. That amounts to about 1 per cent of the 3 per cent of all U.S. farmland owned by foreign nationals.
In the past couple of months, lawmakers in more than two dozen states have passed or considered legislation restricting Chinese purchases of US farmland.
Former President Trump has promised that if he retakes the White House, he will ban Chinese investors from buying US farmland and other critical infrastructure, and force sales of their current holdings, The Hill reported.
“China has been spending trillions of dollars to take over the crown jewels of the United States’s economy,” Trump said in a campaign video in January.
“To protect our country, we need to enact aggressive new restrictions on Chinese ownership of any vital infrastructure in the United States, including energy, technology, telecommunications, farmland, natural resources, medical supplies and other strategic national assets.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed multiple bills this month that prohibit Chinese citizens from purchasing land in the state. Last month, the North Carolina House passed a bill that would ban the governments of “foreign adversaries” from purchasing agricultural land as well as any land within 25 miles of a military installation.
Texas Senate passed a bill last month that would ban citizens of China from buying property, The Hill reported.
Lawmakers on the federal level are also pushing legislation to block China from buying farmland. A bipartisan group of senators have introduced a bill, known as the PASS Act, that would prohibit nationals of China, Russia, Iran and North Korea from buying US agricultural land or investing in American agricultural businesses.
Other legislation focuses specifically on the Chinese government. The House easily passed an amendment to the Republican’s energy bill in late March prohibiting the Chinese Communist Party from purchasing US farmland or land used for renewable energy, The Hill reported.
The broader bill was dead on arrival in the Democrat-controlled Senate.
Chinese ownership of US farmland has increased fivefold over the past decade, according to US Department of Agriculture (USDA) data, from 69,000 acres in 2011 to almost 384,000 acres in 2021. That amounts to about 1 per cent of the 3 per cent of all US farmland owned by foreign nationals.
The rate of this increase has not been even. A large portion of the growth came from a single purchase in 2013 when the Chinese company WH Group bought Smithfield Foods, the largest pork producer in the US, The Hill reported.
After that, the amount of US farmland owned by Chinese investors remained largely stagnant until 2019. Chinese-owned farmland increased by more than 136 thousand acres between 2019 and 2021, but this was almost entirely from acquisitions by US companies with Chinese shareholders.
The new Republican majority in the House of Representatives has sought to make China a central focus, creating a select committee on “strategic competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party.”
One of the Republicans on the committee, Rep. Dan Newhouse, has repeatedly introduced legislation to prohibit the Chinese government from buying US agricultural land, The Hill reported.
Former Trump national security adviser H.R. McMaster, who testified at the hearing, agreed that this issue is cause for concern. He said the Chinese government is engaging in a concerted effort to make US agriculture dependent on China.
However, a 2021 analysis by the bipartisan Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) found that foreign purchases of US agricultural land are not a major threat to US food security, The Hill reported.
Newhouse’s press secretary, Mike Marinella, said in an interview that even though Chinese investors currently own only a small portion of American farmland, the US should be concerned about what could happen in the future.
Another area of concern is Chinese land purchases near military infrastructure. In 2021, Texas lawmakers passed legislation to prohibit a company owned by a Chinese billionaire from building a wind farm on 15,000 acres of ranchland near a US Air Force base, The Hill reported.
That same year, Chinese food manufacturer Fufeng Group purchased 300 acres of farmland near Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota to build a corn mill, which the Pentagon deemed a threat to national security.
Eric Chutorash, the chief operating officer of Fufeng Group’s US subsidiary, repeatedly denied that the plans posed a security risk, as the company is publicly traded and not affiliated with the Chinese government.
In February, however, the Grand Forks City Council voted unanimously to block the project.
Some critics of efforts to limit Chinese purchases of US farmland argue they could contribute to anti-Asian sentiments.
In a House Appropriations Committee hearing last year, Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) criticized an amendment from Newhouse to ban companies owned wholly or in part by the Chinese government from purchasing US farmland. She said singling out China would “perpetuate already rising anti-Asian hate.”
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