The Oklahoman

Chinese land ownership threatens integrity

Oklahoma rural economy, national security at risk

- Your Turn Alexander B. Gray Guest columnist Alexander B. Gray served as deputy assistant to President Donald Trump and chief of staff of the White House National Security Council from 2019 to 2021.

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 office 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 influence 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 officials 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 offered 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 officials 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.

 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States