Appearing on Larry Kudlow’s program on Fox Business Ambassador Robert Lighthizer, who served as United States Trade Representative in the administration of President Donald Trump, stated that China is the greatest adversary the nation has faced. China is a growing military and economic power, and it is also establishing a foothold across the globe. This includes the United States and China’s efforts to purchase agricultural land. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) is leading an effort to prevent Chinese or other foreign ownership of agricultural land. Sen. Ernst recently introduced the Foreign Agricultural Restrictions to Maintain Local Agriculture and National Defense (FARMLAND) Act to provide greater transparency and oversight in an effort to counter the foreign ownership of land.
The FARMLAND Act is co-sponsored by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Senator Ernst argues that this bill is needed to protect both sovereignty and national security. Specifically, this legislation is aimed at protecting American agriculture and food production. “Food security is national security. China, our nation’s number one pacing threat, is buying the farm and encroaching on land surrounding military bases,” stated Senator Ernst. Senator Ernst is referring to the purchase of land near Air Force bases in North Dakota and Texas.
The question must be asked whether it is in the national interest for China or any foreign nation to purchase farmland, especially near military installations? Further, Senator Ernst argues that “America needs to know how our foreign adversary [China] has been allowed to use loopholes to attempt to exploit any potential vulnerability and assert control over our agriculture industry.”
Senator Ernst notes that foreign ownership of American land has nearly doubled in the last decade to 37 million acres. The United States Department of Agriculture reports that China owns 352,140 acres of land. It is estimated that China’s ownership of American farmland has increased from $81 million in 2010 to $1.8 billion in 2020.
Some states, such as Iowa, already have laws to prevent foreign ownership of land. Nevertheless, there are ways that state-level land ownership restrictions can be evaded by foreign “investors.” Iowa’s laws do a good job of ensuring Iowa farmland stays in the hands of domestic producers, but they should be strengthened. In addition, what is more possible for our state is that the other components of food production, like processing plants, could be acquired and controlled by foreign nations.
It is not just in agriculture and land ownership that China poses a threat. For decades the United States has been running massive trade deficits, especially with China. It is estimated that at least 4 million manufacturing jobs have been lost to China. Iowa is known as an agricultural state, but it is often forgotten that manufacturing is a major pillar of the state’s economy. Since 2001, it is estimated that Iowa has lost 33,714 jobs to China.
Senator Ernst is not just trying to prevent further Chinese ownership of farmland, but she has also introduced legislation to track and prevent taxpayer dollars going to adversaries such as China and Russia. “Since 2017, more than $1.3 billion U.S. tax dollars have been sent to our adversaries, Russia and China,” noted Senator Ernst. In addition, she has introduced legislation to prevent the Department of Defense from awarding contracts to various national security and defense firms or consultants that work with adversarial nations such as China and Russia. “The United States is playing a dangerous game. While our adversaries are aggressively working against our national security interests, government contractors closely tied to China and Russia are allowed to advise our military and Pentagon officials,” stated Senator Ernst.
Ambassador Lighthizer is correct that China is our greatest adversary. China is continuing to build leverage within our own hemisphere. Especially alarming is China’s use of Cuba for spying and the recent reported negotiations between the two countries to establish a joint military training facility.
Americans should be concerned about the growing influence of China, especially in our own backyard. Senator Ernst and other policymakers are fighting to protect American sovereignty and national security.
John Hendrickson serves as policy director for Iowans for Tax Relief Foundation