19 US Military Bases Face ‘China Threat’ As Beijing-Backed Firms Continue To Buy Critical Farmland

Amid concerns over Chinese espionage in the United States, a new report has revealed that Chinese companies have recently purchased several farmlands close to strategic US military installations.

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This was reported by The New York Post on June 21. The publication identified 19 US facilities, ranging from Florida to Hawaii, near which Chinese companies have purchased farms. The report echoes a long-held concern within the US security establishment that these land purchases could potentially be used for spying by Chinese agents.

As per the report, these installations include some of the most strategically important military installations, such as MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida; Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in San Diego, California; Fort Liberty (formerly Fort Bragg) in Fayetteville, North Carolina; and Fort Cavazos (formerly Fort Hood) in Killeen, Texas.

A map (seen below) was also published, showcasing the areas where Chinese-origin businesses have acquired land, strategically placing them dangerously close to the US military bases. EurAsian Times, however, could not independently verify these claims. The US administration had not commented on the claims at the time of publishing this report.

“It is concerning due to the proximity to strategic locations,” retired US Air Force Major General Robert S. Spalding III told The New York Post. He explained, “These locations can be used to set up intelligence collection sites, and the owners can be influential in local politics as we have seen in the past.”

Map Via The New York Post

A similar map was also published on social media earlier this year, showing the rapid expansion of Chinese company-owned farmland distributed across the country, close to military installations. The US allows foreign businesses to invest in agricultural land. In fact, as per reports, with 31% of all land owned, Canadian investors lead the way, followed by those from the Netherlands, Italy, the United Kingdom, and Germany.

With 0.3% of the agricultural land in the United States, China comes in at number eighteen on this ranking. However, only Chinese companies have come under the scanner for potential espionage. The reports have triggered concerns among military watchers that these Chinese landowners, under the guise of farming, could fly drones over the military locations or set up monitoring devices, radar, and infrared scanning to see bases.

The report is particularly significant now as it comes days after a civilian Chinese drone allegedly flew over Japan’s Yokosuka Naval Base and recorded footage of Japan’s helicopter carrier JS Izumo as well as the US carrier USS Ronald Reagan and two US Navy Aegis destroyers in a massive security breach.

The proliferation of drones globally has led to several such instances. China, for instance, has employed civilian drones to spy on Taiwan’s military installations.

The Pentagon has recently been very vocal about Chinese spying efforts in the United States mainland. The menace of Chinese spying captured the US public imagination in February 2023 when a rogue Chinese balloon flew over strategic military installations in the continental US.

Additionally, a Wall Street Journal report from September 2023 indicated over 100 attempts in recent years by the Chinese to enter military installations. These attempts allegedly include slipping into a missile range in New Mexico and positioning scuba divers close to a government rocket launch site in Florida.

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Chinese companies buying land close to US military facilities has become a prominent issue for the Pentagon since the US Treasury Department received a tip that a Chinese company had purchased land within a mile of a US base in 2022.

The move spurred President Joe Biden’s suggestion in May this year that if a land sale occurred within 100 miles of eight US military bases, the federal Committee on Foreign Investment should review it. The committee has since duly incorporated the suggestion as a rule.

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B-2 stealth bombers assigned to Whiteman Air Force Base taxi and take-off during exercise Spirit Vigilance at Whiteman Air Force Base on November 7, 2022. US Air Force photo

Citing threats to national security, the Biden administration ordered last month that a Chinese bitcoin mining company be barred from acquiring land close to a nuclear missile site in Wyoming. MineOne Partners was located about a mile from the F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne. The company’s proximity to a strategic US installation was flagged as a “national security risk.”

According to the Treasury Department, the directive was partially based on assumptions that “specialized and foreign-sourced equipment capable of facilitating surveillance and espionage activities” could be detrimental to US national security. However, the department did not divulge specific details.

Several such instances have been reported over the years at a time of widening rift between Washington and Beijing. For instance, in 2020, a Chinese energy company’s affiliate purchased land close to the Air Force’s largest pilot training base in southern Texas.

In 2021, a Chinese business purchased land in Grand Forks, North Dakota, to build an acorn-milling factory next to an Air Force base.

Another such purchase was made by a company of Chinese origin in 2023 in Michigan. The land was known to be located close to the biggest National Guard training site in the country, Grayling.

On its part, the US government has taken coordinated measures to secure some of its strategic facilities, including Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California; Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, Texas; Ellsworth Air Force Base in Box Elder, S.D.; Grand Forks Air Force Base in Grand Forks, N.D.; Iowa National Guard Joint Force Headquarters in Des Moines, Iowa; Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas; Laughlin Air Force Base in Del Rio, Texas; and Luke Air Force Base in Glendale, Ariz.

In addition, several states have also passed acts prohibiting the sale of farmland to foreign investors and companies. The National Agricultural Law Center stated in 2023 that 12 states had passed legislation limiting foreign investment in agricultural production.

While all 50 US states have regulations limiting foreign ownership of agricultural land, 20 of them allow foreign investment in land. It was noted by the Law Center that certain state governments that prohibit land transactions with foreign investors do so solely about agricultural land, not private property.