‘Frightening’: U.S. failing to counter threat of Chinese land ownership

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Chinese military forces (Video screenshot)
Chinese military forces

By Jason Hopkins
Daily Caller News Foundation

The United States government is not appropriately addressing the threat posed by growing Chinese ownership of American land, according to a report released by the Heritage Foundation Thursday.

The federal government is woefully ill-equipped to track Chinese-owned real estate in the country, despite the serious threat these Chinese Communist Party-affiliated entities can pose to critical U.S. infrastructure, according to the report. The report calls on federal and state leaders to take action, such as increasing transparency and conducting more critical reviews of land purchases.

“China’s ownership of American land is nontransparent and unscrutinized, and the federal government has failed to address potential threats even as Chinese ownership of U.S. real estate increases,” Bryan Burack, a senior policy advisor for the Heritage Foundation and author of the study, told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

The federal government lacks an adequate system in place to broadly monitor Chinese ownership of U.S. real estate, due to ownership of real estate being overseen by state and local governments, the report notes. For this reason, the U.S. government has no clear picture on China’s total land holdings in the country.

“The United States should be watching land and real estate transactions from our top adversary, not ignoring them,” Burack said.

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The Daily Caller News Foundation has reported extensively on Chinese companies’ land purchases in the U.S. For instance, the parent company of  battery maker Gotion, which plans to build factories in Michigan and Illinois, participated in Chinese Communist Party (CCP) programs that acquire technology for China’s military, the DCNF reported. The DCNF also exposed the CCP ties of companies attempting to set up shop near military bases in Kansas.

Smithfield Foods, America’s largest pork producer, is owned by a Chinese firm and exported massive quantities of pork to its China-based “sister company” as that company stockpiled food for the Chinese military, the DCNF exclusively reported.

Chinese entities have spent over $100 billion acquiring American companies since 2010, with many of these businesses owning real estate across the country, according to the report. In 2020, the National Association of Realtors confirmed that China was the top foreign buyer of American real estate.

The Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act (AFIDA) does give some insight into the amount of agricultural land being purchased by foreign entities. The latest AFIDA report indicates that Chinese investors own a relatively small fraction of the country’s privately held agricultural land, holding only 346,915 acres, or roughly one percent, of foreign-held acres of private land, as of December 31, 2022.

However, Chinese-owned agricultural acreage grew over five-fold between 2011 and 2021, the report found.

This trend is worrisome because the Chinese government has made numerous, well-publicized attempts to gain access to key locations within the U.S.

Examples the report highlights include China’s attempt to equip a pagoda with signal collection technology and gift it in Washington, D.C., an attempt by a Chinese billionaire to build a wind development project near Laughlin Air Force Base in Val Verde County, Texas, and an attempt by a Chinese agribusiness to develop a cornmeal project just 12 miles from Grand Forks Air Base.

“In both the Val Verde and Grand Forks cases, existing federal government mechanisms proved manifestly unable to contend with threats that were clearly perceivable to the Americans living nearby — as well as, seemingly, to the Defense Department itself,” the report says. “Frighteningly, China’s threat to U.S. military infrastructure only continues to evolve.”

The Heritage Foundation recommended the federal government and state lawmakers enact laws to better equip the country for this growing threat.

“The threat posed by Chinese entities purchasing real estate in the U.S. and using it for malign purposes is real,” the report concludes. “As China presents the United States’ greatest national security threat and has a history of particular threats to real estate and agricultural land, measures to counter those threats must be a priority.”

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