Why the Agitation Over Chinese Acquisition of Virginia Farmland?

Pig farm operated by Chinese-owned Smithfield Foods.

by James A. Bacon

Look, I consider myself a China hawk. I detest the communist regime, I consider China a threat to the global order, I think the U.S. should commit to defend Taiwan, and I support measures to crack down on China’s cyber theft and unfair trade practices. But there’s one thing I don’t get. I don’t understand the agitation about the Chinese buying American farmland.

The General Assembly appears to be poised to pass a bill that would prohibit “foreign adversaries” from acquiring or transferring agricultural land in Virginia — a ban that would extend to “meat, dairy, and poultry products; nuts, tobacco, nursery, and floral products.”

According to Virginia Public Media, the Chinese own 14,000 acres of Virginia farmland. (I expect most of this acreage can be attributed to Smithfield Foods, the pork products company.)

So what? How would Chinese ownership of Virginia floral greenhouses, or pig farms for that matter, constitute a danger to U.S. economic, military or political security?

Do the patrons of this legislation fear that Chinese intelligence operatives might purchase farms or timberlands close to U.S. military facilities and spy on them? That can’t be the case. If the Chicoms want to spy on us, they have ample means — cyber espionage, satellites, high-altitude balloons — to extract secrets. And if they wanted to engage in, say, electronic eavesdropping on a military base, there’s nothing in the bill to stop them from buying, oh, I don’t know… a house nearby.

Do the patrons of the bill fear that the Chicoms can use their control over agricultural lands to threaten our food supplies? That strikes me as absurd. As VPM points out, foreign firms and individuals own about 3% of U.S. farm and timberland, and the Chinese own about 1% of that. Chinese ownership is inconsequential, and there is no sign of that changing.

Even if Chinese firms owned as much as half of American agricultural lands, it’s not as if President Xi could turn off the spigot from Beijing. You see, the corn, wheat, pigs, cattle, apple trees, flowers, pine trees, etc., are here, not there. In the worst-case eventuality of war between our nations, we have all the leverage. We can shut off exports or, in extremis, expropriate Chinese property.

Indeed, one could make the argument that we should encourage the Chinese to purchase American farmland. The more the Chicoms depend upon the U.S. as a source of food supply — think Smithfield Foods exports of pork products to China — the more they are vulnerable to us turning off the spigot to them.

I do think it’s worthwhile to protect ourselves from predatory Chinese practices, but let’s target actual or potential abuses, not imagined ones. Banning the use of TikTok on phones issued by the Commonwealth of Virginia, for instance, seems like a marginally useful idea.

An even better idea is to gain a better understanding of influence the Chicom government exercises in Virginia universities through various grants, programs, and student enrollment. In particular: what disciplines are Chinese nationals studying, and what are they doing with that knowledge? Do they return to China or do they seek employment here? How many are enticed by the American way of life and reject the communist government, and how many remain loyal and cooperate with Chinese intelligence? What role, if any, do Virginia-educated Chinese nationals play in aiding technology theft?

But cracking down on technology theft is hard. It requires resources, and it incurs the risk of racial profiling. By contrast, banning the sale of agricultural land to “foreign adversaries” is easy. No resources needed, no thought required. At the end of the day, I don’t see the ban doing any great harm either. It just seems a useless gesture.

As always on such matters, I refer readers to The Rise of China, Inc. by Old Dominion University professor Shaomin Li, who describes China’s aims and tactics in authoritative detail. By the way, has anyone consulted Li regarding the efficacy of the anti-Chicom legislation? It might be wise to query a bona fide expert.

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16 responses to “Why the Agitation Over Chinese Acquisition of Virginia Farmland?”

  1. Virginia Gentleman Avatar
    Virginia Gentleman

    I totally agree. I think we sometimes get so emotional over national events that we let the pendulum swing too far and we overreact to things.

  2. DJRippert Avatar

    Just ruminating here. If the Iranians or North Koreans wanted to buy the farmland would that be acceptable?

    One point of concern might well be the immense subsidies that farms in the US receive courtesy of the American taxpayer. These are federal subsidies which Virginia would be powerless to stop. My understanding is that the USDA, especially latelyquired a contract for Smithfield to receive the subsidy that the Chinese were unwilling to sign. Therefore, no subsidies for Smithfield. However, nothing stops the Chinese from getting subsidies when they are willing to sign the USDA contract.

    I also find it interesting that politicians from both parties (but mostly Democrats) are more than happy to lambast big business for a variety of sins. Pharma, Energy and Tech seeming to lead the way for political derision. However, there is nary a word about BigAg especially lately.

    1. More to the point — what if the USSR was buying up land around the USofA in the 1950s?

      1. James McCarthy Avatar
        James McCarthy

        US paid good money to Russia for Alaska.

  3. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    “ If the Chicoms want to spy on us, they have ample means — cyber espionage, satellites, high-altitude balloons — to extract secrets.”

    It’s easier than that. Buy an American.

    1. We do have the reputation for selling out cheaply.

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        It’s the free market mentality.

  4. James McCarthy Avatar
    James McCarthy

    Transfer to China of native born pork is a good thing. But welcoming a U.S.-China billion $$ battery plant is a bad thing.

  5. James Kiser Avatar
    James Kiser

    Interesting point you make is the sell out of the educational and research establishment of America to China all in the name of money. Hundreds of Chinese nationals that attended US schools and research labs are now back in China spilling the info they have stolen.

    1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      If the Chinese that you are talking about were students, then the knowledge and information they gained was hardly “stolen”. In fact, it was paid for with tuition money.

      1. I was giving a lecture to a remote sensing class about the new Chicom carrier [the former USSR one] some years ago. All the Chinese students were holding up their iPads and taking photos of my slides. I had to laugh. You must realize all Chinese citizens are required to report to the CCP/PLA any information/intelligence of importance back to the mother ship. They do. They may be ‘geography majors’ but they are combing the libraries for grey literature on all types of research and building relationships with nanotechnology majors and cyber majors, etc.

        Additionally, any company partnering with or doing business with a Chicom entity must share that company’s proprietary information with the CCP/PLA — hence the bad idea of the battery factory.

      2. James Kiser Avatar
        James Kiser

        I suggest you check the various articles that have appeared in the WSJ , Washington Times and The Washington Examiner which have documented Grad students and so called profs including one who worked at JPL with a TS clearance and who ares now working for the Chinese military.

  6. AlH - Deckplates Avatar
    AlH – Deckplates

    I do not agree with the rationale of this article. However, my dichotomy is that the “waving of a wand” to prevent one country’s ownership of American soil will solve or help solve the problem of “…China a threat to the global order…” Not likely, as the issues are complex.

    Looking at the predatory practices of the PRC in other countries to control everything is a good start. For example, the mines in Australia to the expansion of the Italian Chinese (gov’t controlled) population, while bribing & influencing the Italian government – note Naples’s seaport. PRC’s “Belt & Road” initiative has all lead to another method of influencing the populace and the government, in many countries. It will continue to do so in the future. The PRC is serious, and also uses media with the desired results. We are just, over the last couple of decades, are waking up to this in large way.

    We few Americans who research this and see it clearly, will eventually get it. One can see the results of these strategic initiatives, when you identify the effects of enrolled university students, many of whom stay and work, and the technological interface with private, government and quasi government entities. All ways to steal, and to pedal influence. Moreover, I do not believe that the majority of those will modify their lives to become assimilated to the “American way.” We are just too naive in believing that.

    So many businesses (originating) from the PRC have been established in the U.S. only to later learn of the theft of technology, business practices, methods in running a factory, etc. Important to note, and relevant to this article, is that those established business had later established relationships with other business to “exchange” ideas and technology. Then big monies were borrowed, and later the company collapsed while all principals & money had vanished. Looking for the CEO & CFO, it was learned that they departed on flight to Beijing.

    (BTW, I recommend the use of the PRC acronym vs “Chicoms,” & “Chinese people,” as it better represents the entity in the discussion – the controlling government of the PRC)

  7. Stephen Haner Avatar
    Stephen Haner

    Virtue signaling has replaced actual policy thought all across the spectrum. Policy is hard. Posturing is easy. Telling people to calm down never won an election.

  8. LarrytheG Avatar

    What do we tell the kids about Tik Tok?

  9. … or, in extremis, expropriate Chinese property.

    Yeah, and then we could put everyone of Chinese ancestry into special camps…

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