Gov. Kristi Noem takes aim at potential Chinese land purchases in South Dakota
The proposal would create a state corollary to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a federal body that reviews certain foreign transactions that overlap with national security.
SIOUX FALLS — In the third installment in what has become a pattern of using her powers to check different aspects of global Chinese influence, Gov. Kristi Noem on Tuesday, Dec. 13, announced plans for legislation potentially limiting foreign purchases of agricultural land in South Dakota.
The bill, which will be carried by incoming Rep. Gary Cammack and Sen. Erin Tobin in the coming session, would create a South Dakota corollary to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a federal body that reviews certain foreign transactions that overlap with national security.
If the legislation is successful this coming session, the five-member body would “investigate proposed purchases of ag land by foreign interests and recommend either approval or denial to the Governor.” The board would also investigate leases if their length spans more than one year.
“With this new process, we will be able to prevent nations who hate us — like Communist China — from buying up our state’s agriculture land,” Noem wrote in a statement. “We cannot allow the Chinese Communist Party to continue to buy up our nation’s food supply, so South Dakota will lead the charge on this vital national security issue.”
The announcement comes within two weeks of Noem banning the Chinese-owned social media app TikTok on state-owned devices — a move that has been followed by several other Republican governors since — and giving the South Dakota Investment Council until Dec. 15 to review its investment portfolio and divest any links to the Chinese economy.
Ian Fury, a spokesperson for Noem, told Forum News Service the council has “already divested from multiple individual Chinese companies.”
The CFIUS-SD, as the board would be called for short, will be made up of five members. Three will be already-appointed officials, namely the governor’s general counsel, the secretary of the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the director of the South Dakota Office of Homeland Security.
The board would also include two positions appointed by the governor: an agricultural industry expert who owns agricultural land in the state, and some sort of national security or foreign policy expert.
A lifelong rancher, Tobin said her decision to be a prime sponsor of the bill in the Senate came from constituent concerns, specifically mentioning a proposed corn milling plant from Fufeng Group, a Chinese agricultural firm, that would sit just 12 miles away from the Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota.
“My constituents are talking about this,” Tobin, a senator representing Winner, said. “They have concerns about the land that they own and keeping it in their family, and that's something that's so important to me because I was raised in an agriculture family.”
A state law passed in 1979 currently prohibits foreign entities from acquiring more than 160 acres of agricultural land, though Tobin said it has not always been enforced. Right now, the Chinese government does not directly own any acreage in South Dakota, though their global portfolio of farmland has increased rapidly in the past decade.
In explaining his rationale for backing the bill in the House, incoming Rep. Gary Cammack alluded to the Fufeng controversy in echoing national security concerns.
“With vital national security resources like Ellsworth Air Force Base, we cannot afford for our enemies to purchase land in South Dakota,” he wrote in a statement.
At the federal level, South Dakota Rep. Dusty Johnson was part of introducing the PASS Act, which, on top of reviewing purchases of farmland by certain nations, would expand the oversight to any agriculture-related business.
“It's incredibly gratifying,” Johnson said about Noem’s announcement. “I mean, the reality is that food security is national security. And things move slowly in Congress. So while we've been making headway on our legislation, it's also been good to see governors pick up the mantle and join us in this work.”
Jason Harward is a Report for America corps reporter who writes about state politics in South Dakota. Contact him at 605-301-0496 or firstname.lastname@example.org.