(NewsNation) — China’s agricultural footprint in America just got a lot bigger this month, when Fufeng Group — a corn-milling company — purchased 300 acres of land in the Midwest farmlands of Grand Forks, North Dakota, reports say.
The move set off alarms, given U.S. supply chain efforts have been focused on curbing economic reliance on foreign entities, but even more so because the Fufeng Group chose to set up shop only 20 minutes from the Grand Forks Air Force Base — which happens to be where the nation’s top-secret drone information is kept.
“It’s important to protect not only our food production but also national security,” Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said during a Monday appearance on NewsNation’s “Rush Hour.”
NewsNation also spoke with a military official on the severity of such a move. He noted China would also object if the shoe was on the other foot.
“If it weren’t within 20 miles of Grand Forks Air Force Base, it would have raised eyebrows but it wouldn’t have given (us the) concerns that it has,” William Enyart said Monday.
Enyart is a retired U.S. Army general whose nearly 36-year military career included active-duty service in the U.S. Air Force and Army National Guard.
“Grand Forks Air Force Base used to be much larger before it downsized but, nonetheless, I don’t think the Chinese would like it one bit or would any way allow us to build an industrial processing plant within 20 miles of any of their military bases,” he said.
After the $2.6 million deal was finalized in April, Air Force Major Jeremy Fox — who is based at the facility in North Dakota — wrote a memo warning that the move is yet another example of the Chinese assuming close proximity to sensitive U.S. military installations.
“Some of the most sensitive elements of Grand Forks exist with the digital uplinks and downlinks inherent with unmanned air systems and their interaction with space-based assets,” Fox wrote.
Fox also maintains that with their purchase, the Chinese are in a advantageous position to make interceptions of U.S. intelligence, which “would present a costly national security risk, causing grave damage to United States’ strategic advantages.”
NewsNation spoke with a South Dakota congressman on Monday who shared those same concerns.
“I’ve toured a number of military installations. They do what they can to make sure that eyes in the sky don’t peer down at what’s going on on that base. But the closer your allow the Chinese Communist Party to these bases, the more difficult it is to obscure the activity on those bases,” Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., told “Rush Hour” on Monday.
But Eric Chutorash, who is a representative for the Fufeng Group’s subsidiary, disputes such notions.
“I can’t imagine anyone that we hire that’s going to even do that,” Fufeng USA Chief Operating Officer Eric Chutorash told CNBC, adding that he knew the company “absolutely” would not spy on U.S. military interests.
“We’re under U.S. law, I’m an American citizen, I grew up my whole life here, and I am not going to be doing any type of espionage activities or be associated with a company that does, and I know my team feels the exact same way,” he said.
This is not the first time China’s purchasing of American soil has been put into question.
In 2021, former Vice President Mike Pence called on President Biden and Congress to “end all farm subsidies for land owned by foreign nationals,” urging that “America cannot allow China to control our food supply.”
His speech followed a 2019 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture revealing China owns at least 192,000 acres of U.S. agricultural land worth more than $1.9 billion.
Currently, the House is looking to decide on a new amendment to the Agriculture-FDA spending bill (H.R. 4356 (117)) which would block any Chinese-controlled companies from new agricultural purchases and federal subsidies.