The announcement that a Chinese company purchased about 300 acres of prime North Dakota property is the latest in an ongoing landgrab by one of America’s biggest threats. Historically, Chinese nationals are one of the largest purchasers of U.S. residential property, with an average of between 20,000 and 40,000 transactions annually.
On Capitol Hill, legislators worry that the Shandong, China-based real estate acquisition could create espionage opportunities with the Defense Department as its target. The property is close to the Grand Forks Air Force Base that houses sensitive drone technology. The base is also the home of a new space networking center that is the backbone of all U.S. military global communications. The Fufeng Group, which paid $2.6 million to three North Dakotans, produces flavor enhancers and sugar substitutes.
Despite the economic opportunities that the project represents – 200 jobs for locals and ancillary benefits to the community – the Republican and Democratic Senators are strongly opposed. Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) said he’s suspicious of the Chinese government’s intent. Cramer noted that the U.S. “grossly” underestimates how effective the People’s Republic of China is at collecting information and using it in nefarious ways. “And so,” Cramer continued, “I’d just as soon not have the Chinese Communist Party doing business in my backyard.”
In a rare demonstration of true bipartisanship, both the Senate Intelligence Committee chair and the Republican ranking member told the media that they oppose the CCP putting down roots in rural North Dakota.
Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.) said that his committee has been “loudly sounding the alarm” about China’s counterintelligence threat and its investments at sites close to military bases.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) agreed, calling it “foolish, dangerous and shortsighted” to allow the CCP to acquire land near military bases. Rubio reminded reporters that he’s cosponsoring legislation, the “Protecting Military Installation and Ranges Act of 2021,” that would give the Biden administration the power to block such CCP purchases.
If Warner, Rubio and others who sit on the Senate Intelligence Committee have heightened awareness of the danger the CCP poses to the U.S. interior, they’re unfashionably late to the dance. The reality is that Chinese national spies are everywhere, including U.S. Representative Eric Swalwell’s (D-Calif.) bed, and, for 20 years, driving U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, then Senate Intelligence Committee Chair, around San Francisco. Journalists wrote that the Bay Area is a hotbed for Russian and Chinese espionage. As proof of Congress’ indifference to China’s infiltration, Swalwell kept his seat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and Feinstein remains on the Senate Intelligence Committee. No one knows what secrets Fang Fang learned during her pillow talk with Swalwell or what Feinstein’s unidentified driver, never charged with a crime, may have overheard.
The Swalwell and Feinstein cases are high profile. But a closer look confirms that thousands of Chinese nationals, possibly well-intentioned, but perhaps with dubious intentions, are in the U.S. at the federal government’s invitation. Chinese student enrollment, according to an overview of international enrollment at U.S. universities, “far exceeds” that of other foreign nations. Although the COVID-19 pandemic created a 72 percent decline in international enrollment, 382,561 Chinese students attended the most prestigious U.S. universities during 2020-2021. Aggregate international enrollment hit a pre-pandemic high of 1.1 million in 2017-2018.
International students arrive on F-1 visas for general coursework, M-1 visas for vocational programs, or J-1 visas for cultural exchange students. A large number of Chinese nationals return home after completing their academic course work. No one, however, knows what proprietary information the students may be taking back with them. Some who stay take advantage of the fraud-ridden Optional Practical Training Program that displaces qualified U.S. graduates. International high-skill employment has increased sharply in recent years.
The White House and Congress are strangely indifferent to the obvious risks like property theft that a significant Chinese presence in U.S. universities and employment in high-tech fields create. China makes no secret of its goal to become the world’s dominant superpower. As long as the federal government extends such a helpful hand in so many critical ways – education and white-collar employment – China will easily reach its objective.