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In Bills To Bar Communist China From Buying US Land, We Need Big Strides Not Baby Steps

As tensions rise between the U.S. and the Chinese Communist Party, Congress must act to prevent China’s further acquisition of American land.


Since 2010, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its affiliates have been aggressively buying American farmland. Over the last decade, Chinese ownership grew from just short of 14,000 acres in the United States to just over 350,000 acres

Foreign ownership of American land has increased rapidly, as well, with foreign entities obtaining 2 million acres over the last 10 years. Most of the land is owned by countries the United States considers friendly, but the number of Chinese entities buying American land is reason enough for concern.

Thanks to America’s abundance of agricultural land, the U.S. has the ability to feed its entire population and still export food to the rest of the world. This is something that China lacks, and China’s rapidly increasing standard of living means a rapidly growing demand for food variety and quantity. Because of this, people and companies affiliated with the Chinese government were quick to purchase American farmland. 

The Chinese-owned farmland is often situated near military bases; in some cases, the Chinese are even buying real estate near the U.S. Capitol.

These acquisitions present such severe national security concerns that U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, introduced legislation last year to ban members of the Chinese Communist Party from owning any real estate in the country. Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., introduced a similarly focused bill in their chamber: Securing America’s Land from Foreign Interference Act. 

Though the bill is relatively short, the senators’ version is significantly different than Roy’s legislation but addresses the same concerns.

In contrast to Roy’s bill, the Senate version expands the land-owning ban on members of the Chinese Communist Party to prevent any foreign persons who are “acting for or on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party.” This is a key and necessary distinction. 

Instead of a simple blanket ban, the newer legislation also expands the penalties for violating the reporting requirements of foreign land ownership to the USDA — setting a minimum 10 percent fine on the land’s market value while keeping the original 25 percent cap.

But does this bill go far enough?

The Securing America’s Land from Foreign Interference Act has the right perspective on the federal level, and it also matches the concerns of several different states that ban foreign ownership of land, including Iowa, Mississippi, Minnesota, Hawaii, North Dakota, and Oklahoma, as well as eight others that have varying degrees of restrictions. 

However, there are little to no controls on potential “United States persons” — broadly defined as both citizens and permanent residents — that may be acting on behalf of the CCP or foreign corporations and individuals, as well as American-incorporated entities that may be acting on behalf of the CCP, foreign corporations, or foreign individuals. 

What’s to stop these bad actors’ loyalty from being bought and sold by foreign corporations that are affiliates of Chinese companies or passing money and land ownership to CCP affiliates? 

Indeed, Cotton’s bill may just increase the lengths to which CCP-aligned corporations and individuals go to hide their money and ownership through shell corporations by emboldening them to take advantage of a loophole that won’t hold Americans accountable for working on behalf of a geopolitical rival.

The bill announced by Cotton and Tuberville is a step in the right direction, but if this truly is a risk to our food security and critical infrastructure, we must put more scrutiny on American citizens who aid and abet these nefarious enterprises. 

The Securing America’s Land from Foreign Interference Act is good, but it would be even better if the citizenship-sized loophole were formally addressed. However, neither Cotton nor Tuberville’s office responded to a request for comment on this conundrum. 

That said, there is precedent for action against hostile nations and their ownership of land in the United States. In the 117th Congress’s first session, the House passed H.R.4502, which included provisions that directed the secretary of agriculture to “take such actions as may be necessary to prohibit the purchase of agricultural land in the United States by companies owned, in full or in part, by China, Russia, Iran, or North Korea.”

Article 7 in the Chinese National Intelligence law states: “Any organization or citizen shall support, assist, and cooperate with state intelligence work in accordance with the law, and maintain the secrecy of all knowledge of state intelligence work.” When Chinese investors make deals in America or lease commercial real estate to FedEx, GE, T-Mobile, and more, they tacitly mobilize intelligence agents who are committed to the CCP’s empowerment and America’s demise. 

The Espionage Act of 1917 allows the federal government to seize the property of Americans who conspire to aid foreign governments or hide and conceal persons that want to aid foreign governments in obtaining information regarding defense documents, installations, and items used for national security purposes. This ought to be utilized. 

Cotton ought to introduce a stronger, more inspired version of his proposed legislation that draws from the directives in H.R.4502 or even directs federal law enforcement agencies to investigate companies and individuals and seize their property, American or not American, for violating the Espionage Act and aiding foreign governments. 

Perhaps the Espionage Act needs an amendment to apply higher standards not only to individuals but to corporations as well. Congress has the charge of regulating commerce and providing for our common defense. They should do both at once.

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