House Republicans are pushing to bar any person or business associated with the Chinese Communist Party from purchasing agricultural land in the United States, an effort gaining traction on the Hill as lawmakers look to retaliate against China over its spy-balloon incursion.
Reps. Dan Newhouse (R., Wash.) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R., Wash.), alongside more than 40 cosponsors, last week proposed legislation that would prohibit any purchase of public or private agricultural real estate in the United States and its territories by "nonresident aliens, foreign businesses, or any agent, trustee, or fiduciary associated with the Government of the People's Republic of China."
The legislation, known as the Prohibition of Agricultural Land for the People's Republic of China Act, would also bar those entities from involvement in Department of Agriculture programs.
Ownership of U.S. farmland by CCP-connected individuals and companies has risen more than 20-fold since 2010, Fox Business reported, accounting for at least 383,000 acres worth billions of dollars. Newhouse warned that China's investments in other countries' food supplies have enabled Beijing to exert control over those countries—a strategy China is likely pursuing in the United States.
"Imagine if the Chinese Communist Party had just one of the links of our food supply chain under their control, how quickly they could literally starve us," Newhouse told the Washington Free Beacon. "In other countries they make investments, build infrastructure, control sources of agricultural products. … We don't want to see that happen in the United States of America."
The legislation comes as House members on Thursday unanimously passed a resolution condemning the Chinese government's deployment of a spy balloon over America, calling it a "brazen violation of United States sovereignty." The high-profile instance of Chinese interference has prompted lawmakers in states such as Montana and North Dakota to consider resolutions to outlaw land purchases by foreign entities. In Washington, D.C., alarm over the spy balloon could put necessary steam behind the land purchase legislation, which Newhouse first proposed in May but which died in the last Congress.
The Senate is considering a similar bill, introduced last week by Sens. Mike Rounds (R., S.D.) and Jon Tester (D., Mont.), that would ban China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran from owning U.S. farmland.
While China owns just a fraction of all U.S. farmland, Republicans warn that Beijing can still wreak havoc by controlling key segments of the U.S. food supply chain. For example, Virginia-based pork giant Smithfield Foods, which employs tens of thousands of Americans, is wholly owned by a Chinese conglomerate that is the largest meat producer in China.
China's purchase of U.S. farmland has also raised alarms among military leadership. The Chinese company Fufeng Group bought 370 acres of land 12 miles from an Air Force base in eastern North Dakota, a purchase that "presents a significant threat to national security," the Air Force last month told Sen. John Hoeven (R., N.D.). The Grand Fork City Council, citing the national security risk, on Monday voted unanimously to block the Chinese company from opening a corn mill on the property.
"To allow China, governed by the Chinese Communist Party, to acquire farmland near and around key military and otherwise strategic areas of the United States, is as dumb as it gets," said Rep. David Rouzer (R., N.C.), who cosponsored the Republican legislation.