Concern mounts as China sinks its teeth into US farmland
A Chinese company purchased hundreds of acres of North Dakota farmland mere minutes from a major US Air Force base, prompting national security fears as the communist country adds to its nearly 200,000 acres of US agricultural land worth $1.9 billion. The China-based food producer, Fufeng Group, plans to build a corn-milling plant on its newly acquired 300 acres of land in Grand Forks, just 20 minutes down the road from the Grand Forks Air Force Base, where some of the nation’s most sensitive drone technology is based.
The purchase raised suspicions from military officers, national security experts and lawmakers alike. The move could give China unprecedented access to the goings-on at the Air Force base, which also has a space-networking center that’s been characterized as ‘the backbone of all US military communications across the globe,’ according to CNBC. Criticism of the Fufeng purchase comes as American lawmakers have been outspoken about limiting China’s ownership of valuable American agricultural land, which, as of 2019, consisted of at least 192,000 acres. Pictured: Pages from a Grand Forks, North Dakota document about the development of a wet corn mill by Fufeng USA.
After the Fufeng Group purchased the North Dakota land for $2.6 million this year, Air Force Major Jeremy Fox wrote a memo in April characterizing the move as being emblematic of Chinese efforts to install themselves close to sensitive US defense installations. He argued that the Fufeng property is located at just the right location for the company to intercept communications coming from the Air Force base. ‘Some of the most sensitive elements of Grand Forks exist with the digital uplinks and downlinks inherent with unmanned air systems and their interaction with space-based assets,’ Fox wrote.
Such interceptions ‘would present a costly national security risk causing grave damage to United States’ strategic advantages.’ ‘Passive collection of those signals would be undetectable, as the requirements to do so would merely require ordinary antennas tuned to the right collecting frequencies,’ he said, ‘This introduces a grave vulnerability to our Department of Defense installations and is incredibly compromising to US National Security.’ A spokesperson for the Air Force maintained Fox’s memo was not the military’s official position on the matter. They instead called it Fox’s ‘personal assessment of potential vulnerabilities’ and declined to offer an opinion.
A representative for the Fufeng Group’s US subsidiary said fears of espionage couldn’t be further from the truth. ‘I can’t imagine anyone that we hire that’s going to even do that,’ Fufeng USA chief operating officer Eric Chutorash told CNBC, saying he knew the company ‘absolutely’ would not spy on US military interests. ‘We’re under US law, I’m an American citizen, I grew up my whole life here, and I am not going to be doing any type of espionage activities or be associated with a company that does, and I know my team feels the exact same way,’ he said. Despite Fufeng’s assurances, Fox was not the only government official raise suspicions, with the US government’s U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission raising concerns in a May report.
‘The location of the land close to the base is particularly convenient for monitoring air traffic flows in and out of the base, among other security related concerns,’ the commission’s report said. US lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have also raised concerns, with North Dakota Republican Sen. Kevin Cramer (pictured), and Virginia Democratic senator Mark Warner both speaking out against the Chinese interest’s proximity to the air base. ‘I think we grossly under appreciate how effective they are at collecting information, collecting data, using it in nefarious ways,’ Senator Cramer said, ‘And so I’d just as soon not have the Chinese Communist Party doing business in my backyard.’
Senator Warner (pictured) characterized the move as being a part of ongoing concerns about Chinese security threats on US soil. ‘The Senate Intelligence Committee has been loudly sounding the alarm about the counterintelligence threat posed by the [People’s Republic of China],’ Warner said, ‘We should be seriously concerned about Chinese investment in locations close to sensitive sites, such as military bases around the U.S.’ A 2019 report from the US Department of Agriculture showed China owned at least 192,000 acres US agricultural land worth over $1.9 billion. Though nation’s like Canada own far more US agricultural land, a 2018 USDA report showed China’s agricultural holdings in the US and other counties had increased tenfold since 2009.
Lawmakers from liberal banner-woman Elizabeth Warren to conservative stalwarts like former-vice president Mike Pence (pictured) have spoke about the need to curb China’s ability to ingrain itself in the US food supply. ‘America cannot allow China to control our food supply,’ Pence said in 2021, asking President Biden and Congress to ‘end all farm subsidies for land owned by foreign nationals.’ Florida Sen. Marco Rubio characterized Fefung’s North Dakota purchase as more than a food supply encroachment, telling CNBC it was an example of a security threat that needed to be addressed. ‘It is dangerous, foolish, and shortsighted to allow the Chinese Communist Party and its proxies to purchase land near U.S. military installations,’ he said. ‘We want to do what’s best for the community, we want to do what’s best for the country, it’s a difficult balance right now.’
On Friday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (pictured) – widely considered to be a potential 2024 presidential candidate – told Fox News’ Laura Ingraham he didn’t think Chinese companies should be allowed to purchase US land at the rate they have. ‘I don’t think they should be able to do it. I think the problem is these companies have ties to the CCP [Chinese Communist Party], and it’s not always apparent on the face of whatever a company is doing – but I think it’s a huge problem.’ The governor’s solution has been to ban what he calls ‘undue influence from rogue states,’ like China ‘s ruling party. The state has already banned what’s known as a ‘Confucius Institutes,’ public educational and cultural promotion programs designed to educate people about China, thereby giving the CCP undue influence over systems of higher learning.
DeSantis added there’s likely more legislative action to come: ‘We’re also probably going to do legislation next legislative session about our pension investments, with things that may be linked to the CCP. We don’t necessarily have a lot of it, but we want to make sure that we’re cutting ties so that we’re not funding our number-one adversary.’
Whatever the potential geopolitical implications of the Fufeng land purchase, Mayor Brandon Bochenski said he wants to bring more commerce the small city of Grand Fork. ‘I mean, we’re a municipality of about 60,000 people,’ he told CNBC, ‘You know, we don’t have the budget to have an intelligence-gathering apparatus here. We do the best we can and rely on our partners.’ He said he supports Fufeng building its plant, which is set to begin next spring and would cost $700 million and bring about 200 jobs to the city. ‘We want to do what’s best for the community, we want to do what’s best for the country, it’s a difficult balance right now.’