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FactChecking Haley’s Claim on China, U.S. Farmland and Military Installations

Foreign investors own about 40 million acres of U.S. agricultural land, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Of that, Chinese investors own 383,935 acres, or about 1% of foreign-held acres.

In a July 2 interview, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said China “bought 400,000 acres [of U.S. farmland] near our military installations.” But the 400,000 acres is the total (rounded up) held by Chinese investors — not the amount near military installations, as she said.

Haley, who is running for the Republican presidential nomination, made her remarks on “Fox News Sunday” when asked to respond to Democratic Rep. Jake Auchincloss’ criticism of the Trump administration’s cozy relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Auchincloss said Haley, who served under Trump for about two years, would bring back the former president’s “failed foreign policy,” if she is elected. Haley responded by criticizing the Biden administration’s handling of the military and generally discussed how she would deal with China.

Haley, July 2: China has been preparing for war with us for decades … We have to deal with them diplomatically. We have to deal with them economically. We have to deal with them militarily. But from a domestic standpoint, first of all, let’s make sure that they stop buying up U.S. farmland. They bought 400,000 acres near our military installations.

The concern about China owning farmland near U.S. military installations recently became an issue not long after local officials in Grand Forks, North Dakota, announced in November 2021 that a Chinese food manufacturer had selected the town for a new wet corn mill plant. It was around that time that the Fufeng Group purchased 370 acres of land about 12 miles from the Grand Forks Air Force Base, according to a May 2022 report by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

“While not a state-owned enterprise, Fufeng Group has ties to the Chinese government,” the report said. “Li Xuechun, Fufeng’s chairman, previously participated in Shandong’s 12th People’s Congress and has received praise for being the ‘Model Laborer’ for his business achievements.”

In February 2022, the Grand Forks City Council gave its initial approval for the project and Gov. Doug Burgum — who is also running for the Republican presidential nomination — endorsed it, calling it a “huge opportunity” to ensure the state’s long-term economic success, according to the Associated Press.

While local and state officials saw it as an economic boon, some saw it as a potential national security problem because of its relative proximity to the Grand Forks Air Force Base. By July 2022, the state’s two Republican senators made a formal request for the Defense Department and the Treasury Department’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States to review the project to determine if it poses a national security risk. Burgum also sent the departments a letter supporting the senators’ request.

In late January, the Air Force sent both senators letters saying that the North Dakota project would be “a significant threat to national security.”

On Feb. 6, the Grand Forks City Council rejected the company’s development plan.

Prior to the North Dakota project, some in Congress had raised concerns about companies controlled by Chinese billionaire Sun Guangxin buying up 140,000 acres of land for a wind energy farm in Val Verde County, Texas, where Laughlin Air Force Base is located. Guangxin, who leads an investment group that controls Guanghui Energy, is “a former member of China’s People’s Liberation Army,” Rep. Tony Gonzales of Texas said in a Jan. 14, 2021, letter to then-United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

GH America Energy, a subsidiary of Guanghui Energy, was unable to complete the project, however, after the state passed a law that prevented Chinese-owned companies from accessing the state’s power grid, “forcing the aspiring wind farm developers to sell their interest,” the Associated Press reported. The project moved ahead under a new owner, Greenalia, which is based in Spain, the AP wrote.

U.S. Agricultural Land Owned by Chinese Investors

A 1978 law requires foreign investors “to disclose their holdings and transactions to USDA directly or to the Farm Service Agency county office where the land is located,” according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

The USDA issues a report annually on foreign holdings of U.S. agricultural land. In its most recent report, the USDA said that Chinese investors — in part or in whole — held 383,935 acres, or 0.9%, of all U.S. foreign-held agricultural land through Dec. 31, 2021. (That does not include the Fufeng Group purchase in 2022, the CRS report said.)

“Canadian investors own the largest amount of reported foreign-held agricultural and non-agricultural land, with 31 percent, or 12.8 million acres,” the USDA report said.

The USDA report appears to be where Haley obtained her information, given that the 383,935 acres held by Chinese investors contained in the report is close to Haley’s figure of 400,000 acres. But the USDA report does not identify how many acres of foreign-held land are near military installations, and we could find only two examples of Chinese-held U.S. farmland near military installations.

We emailed a Haley campaign spokesman to ask for the source of the candidate’s information, but he did not respond.

Proximity to military installations, however, isn’t the only concern that some have about Chinese investors purchasing farmland in the U.S.

The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, an independent government commission created in 2000 by Congress, warned in its May 2022 report about “the potential weaponization” of agricultural intellectual property.

“Using the genetic code data it has obtained on U.S. crops, China can strengthen its agricultural output by replicating years of U.S. research on its own farms, or it can take a more nefarious route,” the report said. “Similar to hacking a computer code, Beijing could easily hack the code or DNA of U.S. GM seeds and conduct biowarfare by creating some type of blight that could destroy U.S. crops.”

It also warned about China gaining “undue leverage over U.S. supply chains,” citing the WH Group’s 2013 purchase of Smithfield Foods, Inc., which is the largest pork producer in the U.S. It was “China’s largest purchase of a U.S. asset to date,” totaling $7.1 billion, including debt.

The WH Group, formerly Shuanghui Group, received financial backing from the Chinese government to purchase Smithfield Foods and obtained more than 146,000 acres of U.S. land in the process, including hog farms, processing plants and feed mills.

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