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Food Security & Military Bases: 33 U.S. States Take Action to Limit Chinese Land Ownership

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In a move signaling heightened concern over Chinese influence in the US, state lawmakers from across the country are introducing legislation to curtail Chinese land ownership. This year alone, legislators in 33 states have presented 81 bills restricting Chinese entities – the government, businesses, and some citizens – from purchasing agricultural lands and properties near military installations.

Governments have long been wary of foreign investments, especially when they threaten national security. However, 2023 has marked a shift. A majority of states are now proposing bills, some targeting specific nations and their governments. The recent legislative proposals primarily focus on China.

China’s growing interest in the US agricultural sector is seen by some as a threat to national food security. In 2021, China held around 383,935 acres out of the over 40 million acres of US farmland owned by foreign investors, which is less than 1%. Yet, the fear isn’t just about food security. The larger issue at hand is the possibility of foreign entities buying lands near critical installations, such as military bases.

Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida underscored this sentiment when he signed a law in May, which prevents citizens from specific “countries of concern”, including China, from purchasing land within 10 miles of vital infrastructure like military bases, seaports, and power plants. At the signing, he declared, “We don’t want the (Chinese Communist Party) in the Sunshine State.”

Yet, such decisions are not without their critics. Many view these laws as veering towards discrimination, reminiscent of past US regulations such as the Chinese Exclusion Act. Nancy Qian, a professor at Northwestern University, suggests that these land-related bills seem rooted in xenophobia and racism. Such sentiments could potentially deter foreign students from seeking education in the US and might affect the relationship between the US and its vast pool of talent.

Virginia state Sen. Ryan McDougle, however, refutes such allegations, emphasizing that the legislation is “focused on a country that has established hostility to the United States.”

But the broader context reveals a deeper unease. Recently, a US subsidiary of the Chinese company, Fufeng Group, attempted to set up a corn milling plant near an Air Force base in North Dakota. Such a move was seen as a significant threat to national security. Situations like these only serve to heighten the fears.

In addition, Chinese residents in the US are feeling the heat. In Florida, for instance, a recent law barring certain foreign nationals from property purchases has left many confused, prompting discussions about relocating. Florida’s new law, in particular, restricts people or entities from specific “countries of concern” from purchasing land, with some limited exceptions.

Yulin Wu, a resident, said, “I don’t understand why this law passed. It definitely changed my feelings about Florida and the United States. I’m not welcome here.”

Such regulations trace back to historical “alien land laws,” which discriminated against Asian immigrants, particularly the Chinese. While some of these laws remained on the books until recent times, new legislations are sparking debates about their constitutionality. Several legal experts and advocacy groups believe these laws could be voided based on the principles of equal protection.

In the backdrop of a looming trade war, suspicions about the origins of Covid, and rising incidents of violence against Asian communities, these laws signify growing tensions in US-China relations. But as lawmakers move to address national security concerns, striking a balance between safety and prejudice remains a challenge.

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