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Bipartisan group of senators pushes to ban China from buying US farmland

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A group of senators led by Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., on Wednesday introduced legislation to prevent people associated with the governments of America’s foreign adversaries from buying agricultural land in the United States.

The Protecting America’s Agricultural Land from Foreign Harm Act of 2023 would specifically prohibit anyone “owned by, controlled by, or subject to the jurisdiction or direction of a foreign adversary” from leasing or purchasing both public and private agricultural land on U.S. soil.

The ban does not apply to U.S. citizens or immigrants who were lawfully admitted for permanent residence to the country. By “foreign adversary,” the bill says it’s referring to China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea.

These four countries weren’t chosen at random, as they’ve been designated as posing threats to U.S. national security by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. In the intelligence community’s annual threat assessment, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said all four governments have “demonstrated the capability and intent to promote their interests in ways that cut against U.S. interests and allied interests.”

Sen. Mike Braun, a Republican from Indiana, speaks during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing in Washington, D.C., on May 25, 2022. (Ting Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

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“Chinese ownership of American farmland increased more than 20-fold in the past decade,” Braun said in a statement. “We cannot allow our top foreign adversaries to buy up American farmland and compromise our agricultural supply chains. I’m proud to lead this bipartisan effort with Senator Tester to protect American farms and bolster food security.”

As Braun noted, the bipartisan bill was also introduced by Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, Mont., as well as Republican Sens. Marco Rubio, Fla., and Tommy Tuberville, Ala.

“As a third-generation Montana farmer, I am not going to let our foreign adversaries use American farmland to threaten our position as the world’s leading military and economic power,” Tester said in a statement. “That’s why I’m leading this bipartisan effort to defend our food security and national security.”

Beyond a prohibition on land leases and purchases, the bill would prevent people associated with the governments of China Russia, Iran, and, North Korea who own or lease U.S. agricultural land from participating in Department of Agriculture programs. The legislation would also require both the secretary of agriculture and the director of national intelligence to submit periodic reports to Congress outlining the risks of foreign ownership of agricultural land.

A U.S. Air Force installation surrounded by farmland in central Montana is seen on Feb. 7, 2023, near Harlowton, Mont. Lawmakers in several statehouses and Congress are weighing further restrictions on foreign ownership of U.S. farmland.

A U.S. Air Force installation surrounded by farmland in central Montana is seen on Feb. 7, 2023, near Harlowton, Mont. Lawmakers in several statehouses and Congress are weighing further restrictions on foreign ownership of U.S. farmland. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown)

STATES ACROSS THE US DEBATE LAWS REGARDING FARMLAND SALES TO FOREIGN NATIONALS FOLLOWING CHINA’S SPY FLIGHT

Foreign purchases of U.S. farmland have become an especially hot-button issue in the wake of the Chinese spy balloon that the U.S. shot down last month after crossing from Alaska to South Carolina. The surveillance aircraft’s days-long flight across the country re-energized concerns among experts and lawmakers over China’s ongoing efforts to buy land across the U.S., with some voices observing a pattern of suspected espionage activities near American military sites. 

“The Chinese Communist Party plans to overtake the United States as the dominant world power, and China buying more and more American farmland is not a coincidence,” Braun told Fox News Digital. “We cannot allow China’s government to compromise our food supply chain by buying up America’s farmlands. Food security is national security.”

Both Rubio and Tuberville expressed similar concerns in statements, saying adversaries are currently exploiting the openness of the U.S. system and this legislation is important to protect America’s agricultural industry as well as its food and national security.

Chinese land purchases in particular have become a major concern for lawmakers and U.S. officials. Last summer, for example, the Chinese company Fufeng Group, a food manufacturer, made headlines for purchasing 370 acres of land in Grand Forks, North Dakota, some 15 miles away from Grand Forks Air Force, a center for both air and space operations.

Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat from Montana, speaks during a Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., on June 22, 2022.

Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat from Montana, speaks during a Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., on June 22, 2022. (Ting Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

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The Air Force recently denied Fufeng Group its building permits for a wet corn milling plant on the land, calling the project a “significant threat to national security.”

In Texas, meanwhile, a Chinese company owned by a wealthy former Chinese soldier with ties to the ruling Communist Party bought 140,000 acres near Laughlin Air Force Base, where pilots are trained.

Lawmakers in Texas are currently pushing a bill at the state level that would ban the purchase or acquisition of property in Texas by a “governmental entity” of China, Russia, Iran and North Korea. Companies headquartered in these four countries or “directly or indirectly controlled” by one of their governments would also be prohibited from owning land. The bill places similar restrictions on people from the four countries, but the prohibitions would not apply to U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, including dual citizens, and the purchase of homestead residences. 

Nash Farms is a fourth generation dairy farm located in Tennessee

Nash Farms is a fourth generation dairy farm located in Tennessee (Fox News Digital)

TEXAS LAWMAKER RESPONDS TO CRITICS OF BILL BANNING CHINESE LAND PURCHASES: ‘THIS IS ABOUT NATIONAL SECURITY’

Texas has the largest amount of foreign-owned acreage of any state, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Nationally, Department of Agriculture data shows that Chinese ownership of U.S. farmland increased from $81 million in 2010 to $1.8 billion in 2020.

Amid such a surge, more lawmakers in Congress are pushing for tougher action, especially in the wake of the spy balloon incident.

Earlier this year, Sens. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) introduced legislation that would blacklist China and other “foreign adversaries” from investing in, purchasing, or otherwise acquiring land or businesses involved in agriculture. Additionally, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., unveiled a bill that would force Beijing-backed businesses to divest their interest in U.S. agricultural land and prevent more from buying acreage.

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In the House, Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) introduced similar legislation to block China from purchasing American farmland.

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