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Is US Alarmism Over China's 'Grab' of American Farmland Justified?

© AP Photo / Seth PerlmanIn this Sept. 22, 2015 photo, a central Illinois farmer races against the sunset to harvest his cornfield field near Farmingdale, Ill. With most of this year's corn and soybeans harvested, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is boosting its expectations for the size of the crops.
In this Sept. 22, 2015 photo, a central Illinois farmer races against the sunset to harvest his cornfield field near Farmingdale, Ill. With most of this year's corn and soybeans harvested, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is boosting its expectations for the size of the crops. - Sputnik International, 1920, 03.06.2024
US lawmakers claim China is on a buying spree of American farmland even though private investors and firms from the People's Republic are nowhere near the club of top five foreign owners of the country's land.
The US House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture passed the Farm, Food and National Security Act of 2024 (Farm Bill) 33-21 on May 24. Explaining why the move is a "big win" for the US, Congresswoman Ashley Hinson told the Daily Mail that the proposed legislation would help prevent "Communist China" from grabbing American land.
"Communist China shouldn't be allowed to buy another acre of American farmland, nor should we rely upon our top foreign adversary for key parts of our food supply chain," Hinson told the media outlet.
In reality, Chinese private investors and firms possessed less than 1 percent (or 349,442 acres) of all foreign-held agricultural land in the US as of December 31, 2022, according to the Farm Service Agency of the United States Department of Agriculture.
The Chinese possessions are spread across the US, including in Texas (162,167 acres); North Carolina (44,776 acres); Missouri (43,071 acres); Utah (32,447 acres); and Virginia (14,382 acres).
For comparison's sake, Canadian investors own 14.2 million acres or 32 percent of all foreign-owned US land, ranking top of the list. Thirteen million acres are held by Dutch investors (12 percent), while Italians (6 percent), Brits (6 percent), and Germans (5 percent) follow. The remaining 17.1 million acres are held by various smaller international landowners, including China.
All in all, foreign investors held a stake in over 43.4 million acres or around 3.1 percent of all US agricultural land.
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There is nothing particularly new about acquiring foreign farmland. American investors routinely buy land and real estate abroad, for example. US and European companies are planning to acquire Ukrainian arable lands once hostilities are over, given that the moratorium on the sale of agricultural land in the country was lifted on July 1, 2021.
The act was passed in March 2020 and stipulated that in 2022 only natural persons would be authorized to buy land. However, starting from July 2023, corporate entities would also be allowed to buy up to 10,000 ha (24,710 acres) of land each, while foreigners would be granted the right to buy Ukrainian land only after a referendum concerning the issue.
Remarkably, the Oakland Institute – a California-based progressive think tank – revealed on February 21, 2023, that over 28 percent of Ukraine’s arable land is already in the possession of European and North American entities or Ukrainian oligarchs. The report was fiercely criticized by the Western mainstream press.
However, in April this year, Polish President Andrzej Duda appeared to confirm the think tank's findings by telling the Lithuanian press that "industrial agriculture (…) is not really run by Ukrainians; it is run by big companies from Western Europe, from the USA. If we look today at the owners of most of the land, they are not Ukrainian companies."
The trend appears to be deep-rooted. In July 2009, Der Spiegel shed light on "modern colonialism" exercised by big American and European investors who massively bought up cheap land in crisis-ridden countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America.
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'Espionage' Accusations

While some US lawmakers and think tanks admit that China's land holdings in the US are quite modest, they accuse the Chinese of using their land to spy on the US military on behalf of Beijing. No evidence has been provided to back up the allegations, however.
The only case circulated by the Western media concerns China-based food producer, Fufeng Group, which acquired 300 acres of land 16 miles away from the Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota. No proof of Fufeng Group's apparent "espionage" has been presented so far.
The Heritage Foundation, a US conservative think tank, even went so far as to claim that any Chinese real estate purchases or mere leases deserve suspicion.
"Chinese ownership of any real estate may be a concern if it is near critical infrastructure, whether or not it is agricultural land," claimed the think tank. "Adding further complexity, national security concerns may be present even in non-ownership interests in real estate – for example, if a Chinese tech company leases office space across the street from the Pentagon or acquires an easement to build wind turbines near a military base."
US lawmakers and think tanks' fight against "Communist China" resembles nothing so much as a McCarthy-style crusade over a "Red Scare". The ongoing speculations about China's "land grab" coincided with the overall deterioration of US-Chinese relations. Team Biden is raising stakes in the ongoing trade war against China and is continuing to militarize the island of Taiwan and the Philippines to preserve Washington's waning hegemony in the Asia Pacific.
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