Chinese land ownership threatens integrity
Oklahoma rural economy, national security at risk
In April, the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control (OBN) arrested eleven individuals, primarily from China, for unlawful involvement in marijuana cultivation in Guthrie. According to the state attorney general’s office and residents from the Panhandle to the Texas border, increasing numbers of foreign nationals are buying agricultural land using cutouts and front companies to evade a state law that requires 75% local ownership to participate in medical marijuana cultivation.
But this issue extends beyond medical marijuana and threatens both the integrity of Oklahoma’s rural economy and the national security of the United States. Domestic ownership and control of America’s farmland and food supply is a national security imperative, which is why Oklahoma’s laws regarding foreign ownership of agricultural land have long been among the strictest in the country. Non-U.S. citizens, and particularly foreign corporations, are largely prohibited from owning and operating farm or ranch land under state law.
Yet, as the growing involvement of foreign actors in marijuana cultivation shows, America’s competitors are determined to get around even the strictest state laws. China has been acquiring U.S. farmland at an alarming clip; by 2020, Chinese nationals had acquired almost 192,000 acres of agricultural land worth almost $2 billion, an almost tenfold increase over the preceding decade. This is a direct threat to U.S. economic and national security, and Washington needs to take notice.
Chinese ownership of U.S. agricultural land exposes America’s food chain to the influence of a potentially hostile foreign power. Such control could lead to intentional failures that impact food distribution for millions of Americans and degrade both our economic and military capabilities. Chinese ownership of large quantities of U.S. agricultural land also gives them market-moving power to dictate crop prices and exert leverage over a key sector of the U.S. economy. Given China’s increasing aggression around the world, these risks are too great to ignore.
Foreign investment in the U.S. is generally regulated by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), comprised of officials from across the U.S. Government. Yet its scope would not currently allow for review of the type of real estate transactions needed to prevent Chinese acquisition of agricultural land. The Committee also does not currently include the U.S. Department of Agriculture, leading to a concerning lack of focus on foreign investment in rural America.
Sen. Jim Inhofe and Rep. Frank Lucas have proposed legislation to correct this failing, and Congress should swiftly adopt it, as well as expanding CFIUS’ scope to catch potentially dangerous agricultural land transactions. Not only would this change assist in screening foreign purchases of potential concern, but it would signal that Washington views agriculture as a strategic sector akin to high-tech, energy or defense. Even more comprehensively, Rep. Dan Newhouse (RWash.) has offered an amendment banning the purchase of U.S. land by China.
As the U.S. begins to focus on the threat posed by China to both our interests and values, there are few tasks more critical for federal, state, and local officials than securing America’s food supply. Concern about China’s involvement in U.S. agriculture is not hypothetical fearmongering — around the world, we have seen how Beijing uses economic leverage to punish its political opponents. Whether Norwegian salmon, Taiwanese pineapples, Philippine bananas or Australian wine, China has a record of targeting vital industries for retaliation in diplomatic disputes. It is not hard to imagine Chinese-owned farm and ranch land in the United States being put to similar use, with real implications for every American at the grocery store.
Agriculture remains one of the essential pillars of Oklahoma’s economy. As the rise in foreign involvement in marijuana growing demonstrates, strict laws are not always enough to prevent a determined adversary from undermining our national and economic security. Rigorous enforcement is also needed — and a renewed focus by law enforcement at all levels, the Legislature, and state authorities on ensuring that Oklahoma’s farm and ranch land is kept in American hands. China is the preeminent national security threat of the 21st century, and there is no more urgent task than securing our state’s economy and citizenry from Beijing’s dangerous ambitions.