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Chinese farmland grabs near U.S. bases: Simply economic or strategic?

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China’s purchase of more U.S. farmland has stirred up concerns over national security. The newly purchased land in Grand Forks, North Dakota, is located in proximity to Grand Forks Air Force Base, causing many to question whether this purchase has national security implications.

Foreign ownership of U.S. land has been up 60 percent in the last decade, and China is one of those investors, with over $6.1 billion and 191,000 acres in U.S. real estate before the North Dakota purchase. Economic, military, diplomatic, and informational security concerns are being discussed.

»Related: Perspective: Decades of shady tactics have given China a leg up in the ag industry

The Chinese company Fefang Group acquired 300 acres in North Dakota and reportedly plans to build a wet corn milling plant. Meanwhile, the land’s proximity to Grand Forks Air Base has raised the aforementioned security questions. Gov. Doug Bergumn stated in his request for a review to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States that he believes the web corn milling plant would improve the price of corn for North Dakota’s farmers.

According to correspondences from Bergumn to the U.S. Department of Treasury and the Department of Defense, the Fefang Group agreed to voluntarily complete a CFIUS filing.

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States will review the Chinese land purchase in North Dakota and determine whether the purchases pose a security risk with its proximity to the air force base and involvement in the U.S. food supply chain. While Bergumn appears optimistic about Fefang’s ownership and the positive things it can bring to North Dakota corn farmers, other agricultural stakeholders and media outlets have expressed significant skepticism and concern.

Fefang group says, ‘not to worry’

The chief operating officer at the Fefang Group, Eric Chutorash, says that the company’s primary purpose in the land purchase was to find an area that combined the inputs needed: corn availability, natural gas, availability of water, and more.

Chutorash says that the company will be staffed with U.S. personnel and does not pose a security risk.

“I know we’re not going to be asked to be collecting any intelligence on Grand Forks Air Force Base, so I would just state that. I can’t stress it any more than that,” he said. “Me personally, I wouldn’t provide it. I don’t believe the team being built there would provide it. That’s the big thing with the staffing of a plant. Our H.R. director, commercial director, and sales team, and engineer they’re from here — they’re not people transferred from China. The workers in the plant will be Americans. I can’t imagine that anybody in the facility would participate in that.”

More Chinese land grabs in Texas

This isn’t the first time the Chinese have purchased land close to air force bases. Last year, 130,000 acres were purchased in Texas’ Val Verde County by G.H. America Energy, a Chinese subsidiary of China’s Guanghei Energy Co. The property is home to Blue Hills Wind Farm, located near Laughlin Air Force Base, the U.S. Air Force’s largest training base.

Though the CFIUS filing in the Texas case resulted in no national security concerns, Rep. Tony Gonzales urged the committee to reconsider its decision, saying, “This decision is incorrect and must be rectified. CFIUS can revisit this project at any time, and I encourage the agency to do so as soon as possible.”

Despite policymakers’ concerns about foreign control of the U.S. food supply, foreign land ownership is reported in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. The most significant share of land owned is in Texas, followed by Maine and Alabama. While Canada holds the largest share of land, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, and the U.K. own a collective of 33 percent.

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