Make your home page

Chinese land purchases draw national security concerns

Mon evening forecast – Feb 26, 2024

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The author of a land ownership bill on Monday called Chinese purchases of Indiana farmland a national security issue.

The House, at the beginning of February, unanimously approved a bill to prohibit any citizen of, or entity connected with, a foreign adversary from buying any agricultural land in Indiana after July 1. A Senate panel unanimously approved the bill Monday morning after adding language that prohibits purchases of any land, other than residential leases, within 50 miles of a military base, such as NSA Crane or Grissom Air Reserve Base, or 10 miles of an armory or maintenance facility.

Rep. Kendell Culp, R-Rensselaer, said he filed the bill in response to increases in Chinese land purchases in particular. He said Congress is working on similar legislation, but it hasn’t gotten far yet.

“If we lose a fraction, even a fraction, of our food production, this quickly, would become a national security issue,” he said.

Chinese land purchases draw national security concerns

USDA records show foreign investors held more than 43 million acres in the United States as of December 2022. Less than two-thirds of that land belonged to investors from Canada, the Netherlands, Italy, the United Kingdom, or Germany, all NATO allies. Chinese investors own a little less than 1% of all foreign-held land in the United States, but their ownership has drawn scrutiny, particularly after a Chinese company tried unsuccessfully to build a wet corn milling plant 12 miles from Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota.

Culp’s bill does not list specific countries prohibited from buying land in Indiana. Instead, it refers to any country listed as a foreign adversary by the U.S. Department of Commerce. That list currently consists of China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela and Cuba. Culp told News 8 he did that on purpose so lawmakers don’t have to change anything if countries are added to or removed from the list.

Of America’s foreign adversaries, only China currently owns land in Indiana. Three different individuals and firms own 618 acres outright in Greene, Marion, and Noble counties. In addition, the seed company Syngenta, owned by the Chinese firm Sinochem Holdings Corporation, leases about 170 acres. Those holdings would be grandfathered in.

The Senate Agriculture Committee took extensive testimony from Brian Cavanaugh, who served as a senior adviser on resiliency to the National Security Council during the Trump Administration. Cavanaugh said purchases of land near military bases, in particular, pose a threat because they might allow Chinese intelligence services to plant surveillance equipment. Asked by Sen. Jim Tomes, R-Wadesville, about the potential for Chinese companies to work through another country to buy land, Cavanaugh replied that Chinese firms are most likely to work through other countries currently on the foreign adversaries list. The bill would require any foreign entity buying land to sign an affidavit stating they had no connections to a foreign adversary. The attorney general’s office would be required to investigate any potential violations.

Fears of unintended consequences

Sen. Fady Qaddoura, D-Indianapolis, said although he supported the bill, he was concerned the bill might ensnare people who fled oppressive regimes and started a new life in Indiana. The bill’s Senate sponsor, Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, said she would work with Qaddoura to draft a floor amendment clarifying the bill would not apply to dual citizens, a change Culp said he would support.

The dual citizenship issue also drew opposition from ACLU of Indiana Executive Director Chris Daley. He said the bill’s language on military bases, in particular, would prevent foreign nationals from owning even a small business throughout large portions of the state.

“You are telling them they are no longer welcome here except as employees of someone else. They cannot participate as owners of businesses if that includes owning or renting a storefront,” he said. “What about renewing a lease? What about when a lease changes? Are those folks going to be caught up?”

The bill now heads to the full Senate for further consideration. If approved, it would have to go back to the House because of changes made by the Senate.