Senate Votes To Bar Chinese Farmland Purchases

In a lopsided vote, the Senate voted to bar Chinese purchases of American farmland this week. The amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act represents the largest challenge by Washington against what many critics are calling aggressive purchases by Beijing.

The bill was passed by a large majority of 91-7. Five Democrats and two Republicans voted against the measure.

The effort was brought forth by Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) and Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) to bar countries deemed hostile to the United States from purchasing such arable land. In addition to barring Chinese buyers, nationals from Russia, North Korea and Iran will also be banned from buying American farmland.

The passed amendment would limit “control by a covered foreign person of or investment by a covered foreign person in a United States business engaged in agriculture or private real estate used in agriculture.”

In particular, senators including Rounds cited concern about Chinese-linked companies purchasing land near American military bases.

The Fufeng Group, a Chinese company, purchased 370 acres near Grand Forks Air Force base, ostensibly to build a new wet corn mill. 

Grand Forks is home to one of the country’s essential drone bases. The purchase was met with significant opposition in Congress, with several Republican senators writing to the Treasury Department and Pentagon to quash any potential deal. 

The Republicans, which included both of North Dakota’s senators, voiced concern over potential “cover” for Chinese surveillance “or interference with the missions located at that installation, given Fufeng Group’s reported ties to the Chinse Communist Party.”

“In recent years, our country has seen firsthand attempts by our near-peer competitors to acquire land adjacent to our military bases,” Rounds said.

Earlier this year, the city of Grand Forks voted to terminate the potential corn mill.

Should the amendment make it through the House of Representatives, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States would review major foreign investments in agriculture. 

It would also allow the committee to halt such land purchases, as needed. 

The bill was similar to a previous effort by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) that would have required a review of foreign land purchases and leases of more than 320 acres.