The Chinese Farmland Nearest You
Grand Forks, North Dakota is, as they might say out west, a far piece from Beijing, China. Yet the Chinese communist government has an unusual interest in one of the more obscure regions of North America.
Last year, the Fufeng Group of Shandong, China bought 300 acres of farmland near Grand Forks and planned to develop a corn milling plant there. Some North Dakotans appeared delighted by their new Chinese neighbors. One estimate is that the new $700 million facility would have created 200 new jobs in itself plus more in “spin-off” businesses (restaurants, retail merchants, etc.). But after the Air Force contacted North Dakota Senator John Hoeven (R) expressing concerns over the new plant, the Grand Forks city council voted 5-0 to cancel its development.
So, why would analysts in the U.S. Air Force care about a “bio-fermentation company” that processes food for animal consumption? The answer is pretty simple: the proposed Fufeng plant would have been a roughly 20-minute drive from Grand Forks Air Force Base, which is “believed to be the home of some of the country’s most sophisticated military drone technology.”
According to USAF Major Jeremy Fox, the Grand Forks base is home to highly sensitive “digital uplinks and downlinks inherent with unmanned air systems and their interaction with space-based assets.” Were the Fufeng plant to gain electronic access to these systems, Fox notes that this “would present a costly national security risk causing grave damage to United States’ strategic advantages” and that the information could be collected by “ordinary antennas tuned to the right collecting frequencies.”
Is Fox unduly concerned? Well, considering that Fufeng is tied closely to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the answer is a resounding “no.” In September 2022, U.S. Reps. Carlos Gimenez and Michael Waltz (both Florida Republicans) were joined by more than 50 Members of Congress in sending a letter to Cabinet secretaries Lloyd Austin, Janet Yellen, and Tom Vilsack arguing that “the presence of a CCP affiliated corporation near a military installation potentially undermines the integrity of our high capability military bases, jeopardizing our strategic interests.”
As of 2021, China owned about 384,000 acres of American farmland. Forbes journalist Emily Washburn reports that of this amount, “195,000 acres, worth almost $2 billion when purchased, are owned by 85 Chinese investors, which could be individuals, companies or the government.” The remainder “are owned by 62 U.S. corporations with Chinese shareholders.”
The effort to curtail Chinese intrusion into the American heartland is gaining bipartisan support. Andrew Hunter, an assistant secretary of the Department of the Air Force, wrote to Senator Hoeven in January that the Defense Department’s “view is unambiguous: the proposed [Grand Forks] project presents a significant threat to national security with both near- and long-term risks of significant impacts to our operations in the area.”
Similarly, Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.) argues, “We have never had a potential adversary like China. They have $500 billion in intellectual property theft, and we are in a competition not just on a national security basis but on a technology basis. That’s why national security now includes telecommunications, satellites, artificial intelligence, quantum computing.”
Governors and state legislators are also taking action, ranging from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) to the California legislature. In Virginia, Governor Glenn Youngkin (R-Va.) “has moved to ban TikTok from state devices, called for a prohibition on Chinese companies purchasing farmland and blocked plans to attract an electric battery plant.”
Additionally, U.S. officials are now acknowledging that the Chinese spy balloon “that flew across the U.S. was able to gather intelligence from several sensitive American military sites, despite the Biden administration’s efforts to block it from doing so.” We now know that “China was able to control the balloon so it could make multiple passes over some of the sites (at times flying figure-eight formations) and transmit the information it collected back to Beijing in real time.”
U.S. Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), chairman on the House Intelligence Committee, recently wrote that according to a Defense Department review, “The Chinese Communist Party will likely have a stockpile of nearly 1,500 warheads by 2035 if it continues with its current nuclear buildout and now has more ICBM launchers than the United States. China is also developing a land-attack cruise missile designed to be fired from a launcher disguised as a commercial shipping container.”
We are faced with numerous and grave social and cultural challenges. They occupy much of our attention and concern, as they should. But we dismiss China’s growing threat to our peril, even to our eventual collapse.
Rob Schwarzwalder is Senior Lecturer in Regent University's Honors College.