South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem on Dec. 13 announced new proposed legislation to restrict farmland purchases by foreign countries, namely communist China.
“With this new process, we will be able to prevent nations who hate us—like Communist China—from buying up our state’s agriculture land,” Noem said in a press release.
“We cannot allow the Chinese Communist Party to continue to buy up our nation’s food supply, so South Dakota will lead the charge on this vital national security issue.”
The proposed plan marked the latest step by the Republican governor to crack down on the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) influence in her state. Last week, Noem banned government employees and contractors from using TikTok, a popular short-video app owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, on their state-owned devices due to concerns that the vast swaths of Americans’ personal data collected by the app are being used by the communist regime.
On Wednesday, Noem’s office issued a statement saying Noem and legislators planned to create a new board, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States – South Dakota, to review proposed agricultural land purchases by foreign entities. The board, which consists of three ex officio members and two experts in the agricultural industry and national security, will recommend either approval or denial of land sales.
“We grow the world’s food, and we need to protect the security of that food supply for our kids,” said state Senator Erin Tobin, a sponsor of the proposed legislation.
Besides food security concerns, lawmakers also view the land that could be owned by CCP-affiliated entities as problematic from a national security perspective.
“With vital national security resources like Ellsworth Air Force Base, we cannot afford for our enemies to purchase land in South Dakota,” said Representative-elect Gary Cammack, another sponsor of Noem’s proposal. “We want to keep this land in the hands of South Dakota agriculture producers.”
Chinese Purchase of US Farmland
The plan came amid growing scrutiny of U.S. farmland owned by Chinese investors. In September, 51 House Republicans raised national security concerns about the sale of 370 acres of farmland in North Dakota to FuFeng Group, an entity with close ties to the CCP.
The Chinese agribusiness proposed to set up a corn mill plant on the site. The proposed project is located about 12 miles from the Grand Forks Air Force Base, home to sensitive U.S. drone, satellite, and surveillance technology.
The site could become “the ideal location to closely monitor and intercept” the Air Force base’s “exceptional intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter dated Sept. 26 addressed to several Biden administration’s secretaries.
Despite strong pushback from lawmakers and local residents, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) said it wouldn’t block the deal, because the farmland purchase is “not a covered transaction” under the panel’s jurisdiction, according to a Dec. 13 statement from CFIUS Staff Chair Andrew Fair.
The total value of Chinese-owned American agricultural land has jumped over 20-fold in the past ten years, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In 2020, Chinese-owned U.S. agricultural lands were worth more than $1.8 billion, compared to $81 million in 2010.
Some 14 states have introduced plans to restrict foreign acquisitions on American soil, according to Sens. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.). The two Republican senators are pushing for a federal-level ban on foreign-owned private U.S. farmland.
In South Dakota, the current law limits foreign ownership of farmland to 160 acres, according to Noem’s office.
Other Actions Against the CCP
Earlier this month, Noem had called for an immediate review of all investments to determine if taxpayer money is going to companies that “pose a threat to our national security.”
“South Dakotans deserve to know if their taxpayer dollars are being invested to benefit the Chinese Communist Party,” Noem said in a Dec. 8 statement.
The governor said she wanted the South Dakota Investment Council, a panel managing investment of the state’s pension, to complete the review in seven days.
“The Investment Council has ensured that South Dakota has the best-funded pension in the country. But it is not possible to make good deals with bad people,” she said. “If this review shows that such investment is taking place, then the Investment Council should propose alternative investment options.”
On Nov. 29, Noem signed an executive order stopping all state employees from using TikTok, citing the platform’s connection to Beijing.
The ban came amid escalated concerns over the Chinese-owned video-sharing platform, which has led to several state-level restrictions. The latest states to ban TikTok on state government electronic devices were Alabama and Utah, due to national security concerns.
“The Chinese Communist Party uses information that it gathers on TikTok to manipulate the American people, and they gather data off the devices that access the platform,” she said at that time.
Eva Fu and Jack Phillips contributed to this report.