By Terri Wu
The U.S. Senate passed on Tuesday an amendment offered by Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) to ban China and other foreign adversaries from purchasing American farmland and agricultural businesses. The amendment will be included in the Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2024.
“China and Russia are our near-peer adversaries and North Korea and Iran are no friends of the United States,” said Mr. Rounds in a statement emailed to The Epoch Times. “These four adversaries view America as their top competitor and only wish to gain advantage and opportunities to surveil our nation’s capabilities and resources.”
“This commonsense provision will make our homeland more secure. I am pleased this amendment was included in this year’s NDAA, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to move this legislation across the finish line,” he added.
The amendment, passed by a 91–7 vote in the Senate, will also add the secretary of agriculture as a non-voting member of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a federal inter-agency panel that reviews foreign acquisitions for national security risks, and require the president to report to Congress on any waiver granted to entities from the four banned countries.
Mr. Rounds’s amendment also prohibits entities or individuals of the four countries from leasing agricultural land over 320 acres or valued at over $5 million.
The House version of the NDAA was passed in mid-July. After the Senate passes its version, the NDAA will go to the conference, in which leadership of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees will negotiate a compromised final version ready for the signature of the president.
The proposed ban comes when Chinese ownership of American farmland has become an increasing concern for state governments and the general public. Republican-led states such as Florida, Texas, Virginia, and South Dakota have undertaken state-level legislative efforts to tighten control on foreign land purchases.
CFIUS Covered Transaction List Expanded
In May, the Biden administration proposed tighter controls over foreign land purchases by adding eight additional military installations to CFIUS’s list for national security review.
Once finalized, any non-excepted real estate purchases or leases within a 100-mile radius near those additional sites will be considered a CFIUS “covered transaction,” according to the federal register notice.
Some proposed additional sites, such as Grand Forks Air Force Base in Grand Forks, North Dakota, and Laughlin Air Force Base in Del Rio, Texas, were related to high-profile cases that attracted national attention.
In the fall of 2021, a Chinese company bought, through its subsidiary Fufeng USA, 370 acres of farmland to build a corn-milling plant in Grand Forks, North Dakota.
The land is within 15 miles of Grand Forks Air Force Base, which houses sensitive drone, satellite, and surveillance technology and is among the proposed eight additions. In December 2022, CFIUS determined that the land sale for the Fufeng project was “not a ‘covered transaction’” under the committee’s jurisdiction.
The project proceeded until, at the end of January, the Department of the Air Force stated (pdf) that the branch has an “unambiguous” view that “the proposed project presents a significant threat to national security with both near- and long-term risks of significant impacts to our operations in the area.”
The Laughlin Air Force Base is related to another case halted after CFIUS clearance.
In 2016, Chinese billionaire and former military official Sun Guangxin purchased about 140,000 acres of agricultural land in Val Verde County, Texas, and planned to build a wind farm on the property. When the community took note that the proposed wind project would have allowed the Chinese owner access to Texas’s electrical grid and that the property is near the Laughlin Air Force Base, a training ground for military pilots, it raised national security concerns.
In June 2020, CFIUS cleared Mr. Sun’s wind farm project on condition of mitigation agreements, which were reached with the Department of Defense in July 2021. After that, however, the project was halted by a new Texas law that went into effect in June 2021. The Lone Star Infrastructure Protection Act bans Texas businesses and governments from doing business with foreign entities from China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran if these transactions would provide the foreign enterprises remote access or control of critical infrastructure.