One of the many great things about the joe six-packs of America is that they really love this country. When the Chinese spy balloon flew over the heartland this past week, everyday Americans of all political persuasions wanted the dim sum dirigible shot down.
After several days of hand ringing from the President and the defense establishment, Americans got their wish. Now, there has been a long overdue reexamination of Chinese espionage and influence in the U.S. There has been a flurry of coverage in the mainstream press regarding Chinese infiltration in universities, corporations, defense production, communications, and politics.
All of these are worthy of examination but––while the iron is hot–– the Texas legislature should strike and pass Senate Bill 147. This bill, introduced by Brenham Senator Lois Kolkhorst, would ban purchases of Texas land from adversarial powers like Iran, North Korea, andChina.
China has been like the Very Hungry Caterpillar when it comes to gobbling up foreign lands. China ate the ports of Sri Lanka, but it was still hungry. China ate the infrastructure of East Africa, but it was still hungry. Now, China has been gorging itself on as much American farmland as it can.
While China may ostensibly be purchasing farmland because of a fear of drought in mainland China, U.S. lawmakers have warned that China’s land purchases are thinly veiled attempts to steal the genetic information of American crops. If this is China’s intent, it would not be a surprise.
In 2013, Chinese nationals were arrested by the FBI on espionage charges for trying to steal agricultural technology and trade secrets. Recently, the Department of Defense has begun ringing alarm bells about vulnerabilities in American agriculture. Collaborating with the DoD, the National Counterintelligence and Security Center issued an 11-page manual on protecting American agriculture from adversarial foreign intelligence.
Across the U.S., China has been buying up farmland adjacent to military bases, and Chinese-manufactured spy gear has been long suspected to be attached to the infrastructure of America’s 5G network. In Texas alone, Texas Scorecard has extensively covered the purchase of hundreds of thousands of acres of Texas land by China and other foreign actors.
Obviously, there is a lot left to do to shake the grip of the Chinese Communist Party on America’s heartland; Governor Abbott’s ban of TikTok on government devices was an excellent nod in this direction. However, a bold and shrewd first step would be passing Senate Bill 147.
Fortunately, Abbott has already promised to sign the bill if passed. What little public opposition exists to the bill only makes Senate Bill 147 and its champions look better. Some in the press have criticized Abbott for being too tough on China—which seems like criticizing someone for being too tough on brain cancer—and condemned Kolkhorst for authoring a bill that some Asian Americans might compare to other anti-Asian policies of the past.
This criticism is mindless. Kolkhorst and the bill’s language have made it clear that the law does not apply to Chinese Americans. SB 147 has exposed a sharpness in Abbott’s foreign policy acumen and a mastery of statecraft on the part of Kolkhorst.
The bill’s only flaws are that it probably does not go far enough. The Legislature should consider amending the law to include other adversarial powers, including Cuba, Taliban Afghanistan, and certain actors from the Maduro government in Venezuela. This Legislature should additionally consider banning land purchases from affiliates of the Mexican drug cartel since numerous reports have indicated cartels have used Texas land for a variety of nefarious purposes, including combat training.
However, these small tweaks should not delay or obstruct the passage of SB 147. These adjustments can be made through the amendment process in the Texas House of Representatives or in a companion bill passed at a later point.
No matter what the final version of the bill is, the Texas Legislature must make it a priority to pass this bill in the most expeditious way possible. Just because President Biden failed to get tough on Chinese espionage—or even mention it in his recent State of the Union address—this does not mean Texans have to wait to act. Texas can get tough on the Chinese Communist Party now.
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