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Chinese-Owned Company Buys Up Farmland Near Strategic U.S. Airbase, Alarming Senators

July 21, 2022

U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), and John Hoeven (R-N.D.) wrote July 14 to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), expressing concern over “Chinese food manufacturer Fufeng Group’s recent purchase of roughly 370 acres of land near Grand Forks, North Dakota.” Fufeng plans to build a wet corn mill on the site. However, because of national security implications that potentially go far beyond food production, Rubio, Cramer, and Hoeven urged the CFIUS to conduct a full review.

The purchase was strategically located “approximately 12 miles from Grand Forks Air Force Base,” argued the senators, raising concerns “that Fufeng operations could provide cover for PRC surveillance or interference with the missions located at that installation, given Fufeng Group’s reported ties to the Chinese Communist Party.” Cramer explained on “Washington Watch” that the Grand Forks Air Force Base is “a very important ISR — that’s intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance — air base. It’s reconnaissance wing actually flies unmanned aerial vehicles.” The drones flown in the Middle East are operated from Grand Forks, supposedly far from any frontline.

The base also serves as “a ground station for working satellites in low earth orbit,” Cramer explained. “There’s a lot of important data that goes up and down from space to earth at Grand Forks.” China’s land purchase in the neighborhood gives an “opportunity for the Chinese to do what they do very well. And that is steal and spy,” he added.

“Six states, including North Dakota, have laws banning foreign ownership of farmland,” said FRC President Tony Perkins, host of “Washington Watch.” “International investors circumvent this by purchasing U.S. corporations to handle such purchases.” North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring commented on the purchase, “I don’t like that it’s China, but the reality is, I don’t have a leg to stand on because if there’s nothing unlawful about it.”

But while state officials can’t derail the sale, federal officials may have a stronger hand. “Local officials are seeking input from federal authorities about any national security implications of this project,” the senators’ letter informed the committee. That includes the DoD and FBI, but CFIUS may have a role to play, too. “Normally, agriculture transactions are exempt from CFIUS,” said Cramer, but “they are, in fact, going to take a look.” He expected that “a lot of concerns are going to be raised by the various agencies … enough concern to allow the community and the state to unravel this transaction.” CFIUS is comprised of 14 department heads and White House officials.

“Why would we let them come to our own country and buy up precious farmland that we need to feed our folks, [and to] use as exports to feed our allies?” Perkins asked Cramer. Cramer responded, “We shouldn’t.”

“But, at the same time,” Cramer added, “remembering that we exercise private property rights, we want our farmers and the landowners to be able to do what they want with their own land and be able to take advantage of economic opportunities.” That’s what allows Chinese companies to buy American real estate.

What can change the calculus, said Cramer, is that “we are now talking about a national security risk.” So he is hoping the federal government can shut down the Chinese company’s deal.

Joshua Arnold is a staff writer at The Washington Stand.