Pop quiz, hotshot: Your biggest geopolitical adversary is buying up your country’s farmland. It’s buying up so much, in fact, that this feasibly could become a national security issue in a crisis or war. Do you stop it from buying more?
That’s apparently a trick question for Democrats. After all, what if treating your enemy like your enemy “would perpetuate already rising anti-Asian hate”?
That’s what could end up dooming an effort to stop buyers with connections to the Chinese Communist Party from snapping up more of our farmland, according to Successful Farming. While the measure has bipartisan appeal, New York Democratic Rep. Grace Meng is objecting to it on the grounds it could stoke hatred.
Last month, the House Appropriations Committee approved language that would stop Chinese-linked individuals or concerns from purchasing more land and bar the land already purchased from farm subsidies as part of a $197 billion spending bill for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration.
“The current trend in the United States is leading us toward the creation of a Chinese-owned agricultural land monopoly,” said GOP Washington Rep. Dan Newhouse, who proposed the amendment.
“There are currently no federal safeguards against the creation of this monopoly,” he said.
Chinese investors controlled roughly 192,000 agricultural acres in the U.S. at the beginning of 2020, worth $1.9 billion, according to Politico. That’s less than Canada and other European nations own and a fraction of a fraction of U.S. farmland.
However, China’s investments in foreign agriculture increased tenfold between 2009 and 2018, the USDA reported, and agricultural investment has been part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, purportedly to secure the country’s food chain. If the situation presented itself, of course, it could also be used to stoke insecurity in a geopolitical rival as well — particularly if that rival is America.
This has produced, for the most part, a rare moment of bipartisan comity.
The amendment was introduced by a Republican in Newhouse — a more liberal one, to be sure, but a Republican nonetheless — and yet it made it out of a Democrat-controlled committee.
As Politico noted, voices as diverse as former Vice President Mike Pence and Massachusetts Democrat Sen. Elizabeth Warren have called for tightened restrictions.
Enter Meng, first vice chairwoman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, who thinks the language might lead to more hate crimes.
“It would perpetuate already rising anti-Asian hate,” she warned at the bill’s markup, according to Successful Farming.
“Can we honestly say that this amendment, which singles out one country, won’t have repercussions on Asian-Americans across our country?” Meng said. “Let’s include all of our adversaries.”
Newhouse responded that the language was “about communist China,” adding, “This is not about calling attention in any negative way to any group of people in this country.”
That just touches the surface of how strikingly ignorant Meng’s comments were, though.
First, I’m curious what kind of people would be curious enough about the world to pay attention to language about foreign ownership of farmland coming out of the agriculture appropriations subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, yet still incurious enough that it fanned the flames of anti-Asian hatred within their hearts.
This seems like an infinitesimal subset of individuals Meng wants to avoid provoking — if, indeed, it exists at all.
Yes, Meng’s counterproposal seems to be to sanction buyers from other nations, especially “all of our adversaries.” However, there’s only one adversary with the resources and the ill intent to be a destabilizing force on the U.S. food chain: China.
If Russia, Iran or North Korea gets around to having designs on American agricultural land buys, rest assured Republicans and Democrats can hold hands again and sanction those individual countries.
Besides the complexities of a blanket ban on foreign ownership of American farmland by our adversaries, however — including just what an adversary entails — there’s the fact such a ban remains a ban on China and only China in everything but language.
That means our hypothetical agricultural appropriations subcommittee-watching anti-Asian bigot will be no less inflamed as he watches that one pass on C-SPAN 3 as he would if it were solely a proscription on Beijing-linked ownership.
For now, it’s unclear how much weight Meng’s objection will carry.
Politico reported Monday that “Meng, Newhouse and committee leaders indicated they would find a solution as the legislation winds through Congress. The measure is expected to reach the House floor before the end of July, as part of a broader appropriations package, although the Senate has not yet drafted its own version of the spending bill.”
“We are new in this process,” said Democrat Rep. Sanford Bishop of Georgia, agriculture appropriations subcommittee chairman. “I would suggest that we sit down and we work through it so we can accomplish our objective, but do it in a way that is sensitive to all those who might be somewhat offended by the approach.”
Note Bishop’s language: “those who might be somewhat offended by the approach.” Not “those who might be threatened by the approach,” just “offended.” This is about the professionally offended, not about any sort of tangible threat to the Asian-American community.
Perhaps there’s a way to appease both sides without watering down the amendment. If its efficacy is diluted, however, Meng and the Democrats are solely responsible for however much that jeopardizes America’s food supply.
The test isn’t that hard, after all: Do you want to secure America’s food chain from America’s biggest adversary or not?
Any answer aside from yes is a no, no matter how well-intentioned it may sound.
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