Why Chinese-Owned U.S. Land Is a National Security Risk


The Chinese spy balloon incident of early 2023 spotlighted the increasing issue of Chinese espionage, raising concerns about the government’s intentions. Consequently, efforts at the state level to limit foreign ownership of farmland and sensitive infrastructure have gained momentum.

Legislatures in two-thirds of U.S. states are pushing bills to restrict real estate purchases by Chinese-controlled interests. This legislation, primarily supported by Republicans, includes new laws in Georgia and South Dakota aimed at limiting the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) strategic influence in the United States.

In Georgia, SB 420 bans any Chinese “agent” from buying commercial land near military installations or farmland. Democrats have criticized the bill as discriminatory. Similarly, South Dakota’s HB 1231, signed by Gov. Kristi Noem, prohibits China, along with several other nations, from purchasing farmland in the state. Much of this legislative success is attributed to the new group State Armor, led by Michael Lucci.

These state-level efforts highlight growing concern over the national security implications of foreign land acquisitions. However, opposition from business and real estate groups, economic impact worries, and diplomatic considerations—such as pressure from the CCP—often impede the passage of such laws. Despite bipartisan support, actions to curb foreign ownership of farmland and critical infrastructure have faced mixed success until recently.

Why Foreign Land Ownership Is a Problem

Chinese investments in American real estate have shifted in recent years, initially driven by a desire to offshore savings and provide homes for students. Now, these investments include farmland acquisitions, raising national security alarms.

The motives behind these purchases are strategic, categorized into four main areas:

  1. Food Security: The CCP prioritizes food security due to the historical impact of famines on China’s stability. Owning U.S. farmland and food production facilities helps secure their food supply.
  2. Intellectual Property: Chinese entities aim to gain insights into American agricultural practices, transferring this knowledge back to China, similar to their approach in other industries. America is no. 1 in food production, and China wants in on that.
  3. Espionage Opportunities: Chinese-owned farmland near sensitive U.S. military installations allows for direct observation, electronic eavesdropping, and potential espionage activities.
  4. Biological Warfare: Ownership of farmland raises concerns about the potential introduction of deadly pathogens into the U.S. food supply.

Efforts to address these risks often face opposition from the real estate lobby and the CCP, which may liken such regulations to historical discriminatory laws like the Chinese Exclusion Act.

Current Developments and Concerns

Recent revelations from an FBI investigation show China’s extensive efforts to establish electronic intelligence capabilities in the U.S., particularly near military installations. Chinese telecom giants Huawei and ZTE have sold equipment to rural American providers, raising concerns about vulnerabilities in critical infrastructure.

The ZTE equipment near strategic nuclear bases poses a significant national security threat, potentially enabling electronic surveillance, signals jamming, and disruption of critical communications.

Strategic Real Estate and National Security

China’s strategic mercantilism, aimed at acquiring or stealing foreign technology and undercutting competitors, underscores the need for vigilance. The decline of American manufacturing in telecommunications serves as a warning against complacency.

Incidents like China’s attempt to build the National China Garden in Washington, D.C., rejected due to security concerns, highlight the importance of scrutinizing private transactions. Recent farmland acquisitions near military bases, such as the Fufeng Group’s purchase in Grand Forks, North Dakota, illustrate the tension between economic benefits and national security risks.

A notable example is the acquisition of a vast ranch near Laughlin Air Force Base in Del Rio, Texas, by Chinese interests. This raises alarms about potential coordination with transnational criminal organizations.

While food security is crucial, the U.S. retains vast arable land, ensuring resilience against potential disruptions from Chinese land ownership. The FBI’s counterintelligence investigations and expert warnings emphasize the urgency of addressing these national security risks.

As tensions with China, particularly over Taiwan, escalate, protecting America’s interests and defending against external threats is more critical than ever.

Chuck DeVore
Chuck DeVore
Chuck DeVore is a vice president with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, was elected to the California legislature, is a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, and the author of the book Crisis of the House Never United.

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