Legislation that would restrict land ownership in Texas by entities from China and three other countries is necessary for the security of the Lone Star State and the entire U.S., according to the bill’s author, who pushed back on claims that the proposal would be discriminatory.
“This is about our national security,” Republican state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst told Fox News Digital. “The bill is meant to protect some of our nation’s most precious resources: land, minerals, military bases.”
Kolkhorst authored Senate Bill 147, which would ban the purchase or acquisition of property in Texas by a “governmental entity” of China, Russia, Iran and North Korea. Companies headquartered in these four countries or “directly or indirectly controlled” by one of their governments would also be prohibited from owning land.
These four countries were not chosen at random.
“They’re hostile regimes to the United States,” said Kolkhorst, who noted they have been designated as posing threats to U.S. national security by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. In the intelligence community’s annual threat assessment, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said all four governments have “demonstrated the capability and intent to promote their interests in ways that cut against U.S. interests and allied interests.”
However, critics have focused primarily on China, claiming the bill, which originally banned all citizens from the four countries from buying Texas land, would create anti-Asian American sentiment. Some lawmakers and Asian American groups also argued the bill’s initial language would prevent immigrants from buying homes.
Last week, Kolkhorst announced an updated version of the bill to ensure its prohibitions would not apply to U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, including dual citizens, and the purchase of homestead residences.
“The goal of this bill is to legislate common sense safeguards against Russian, North Korean, Chinese, and Iranian authoritarian regimes,” Kolkhorst said in a statement on the changes. “It will not apply to those fleeing the tyranny of those governments who seek freedom in Texas. The committee substitute makes important clarifications, so the law targets agents of these adversarial regimes while not harming innocent Texans in pursuit of the American dream.”
Speaking to Fox News Digital, Kolkhorst noted jokingly that even people who come across the southern border illegally due to the Biden administration’s “open borders policy” could still “come here and buy a place” under the bill, pushing back on the notion that her legislation was racist.
Kolkhorst described how the bill, which is backed by Gov. Greg Abbott, would “preserve” Texas’ real estate, including its farmland, along with rare earth materials, oil and gas facilities, military bases, weapons manufacturers and coastline.
“It’s a strategic move for Texas to be at forefront of our national security,” she said. “I thought a lot about this before a Chinese balloon flew over the U.S.”
Kolkhorst was referring to the Chinese spy balloon that the U.S. shot down last month after crossing from Alaska to South Carolina. The surveillance aircraft’s days-long flight across the country re-energized concerns among experts and lawmakers over China’s ongoing efforts to buy land across the U.S., with some voices observing a pattern of suspected espionage activities near American military sites.
Indeed, Chinese land purchases in the U.S. have become a major concern. Last summer, for example, the Chinese company Fufeng Group, a food manufacturer, made headlines for purchasing 370 acres of land in Grand Forks, North Dakota, some 15 miles away from Grand Forks Air Force, a center for both air and space operations.
The Air Force recently denied Fufeng Group its building permits for a wet corn milling plant on the land, calling the project a “significant threat to national security.”
In Texas, meanwhile, a Chinese company owned by a wealthy former Chinese soldier with ties to the ruling Communist Party bought 140,000 acres near Laughlin Air Force Base, where pilots are trained.
Kolkhorst argued limiting such purchases has bipartisan support both in Texas and nationwide, noting leaders in several states have backed or implemented limitations on foreign ownership of land. Even in California, a Democrat-backed bill that would prohibit foreign governments from buying or leasing agricultural land made it to the governor’s desk, where it was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Texas, which according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture has the largest amount of foreign-owned acreage of any state, is home to many sensitive sites of national security importance, including military installations, research facilities, energy production and refining plants, and other critical infrastructure. Pantex, the nation’s primary location for assembling and disassembling nuclear weapons, is also located in the Lone Star State.
“Let’s tap the brakes for a little while and see what’s going on here,” said Kolkhorst, who added her bill builds on legislation from 2021, under which state lawmakers banned Texas businesses and government officials from making infrastructure deals with interests from the four countries. That legislation passed unanimously.
Her bill also has the support of federal lawmakers from Texas.
“It’s no secret that America’s adversaries — emboldened by this administration’s displays of weakness — are growing more aggressive by the day,” Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said in a statement. “As the spy balloon revealed, the Chinese Communist Party knows no bounds when it comes to espionage, and they are already making dangerous moves to secure land near our military bases. I’m thankful Texas has champions like Senator Lois Kolkhorst working in our state legislature to protect our great state and its citizens from those who would do us harm.”
Kolkhorst chided the federal government for not doing more to prevent adversarial regimes and entities linked with them from buying U.S. land.
However, some lawmakers in Congress are pushing for tougher action, especially in the wake of the spy balloon incident.
In the Senate, Sens. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) introduced legislation that would blacklist China and other “foreign adversaries” from investing in, purchasing, or otherwise acquiring land or businesses involved in agriculture. Additionally, just this week, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., unveiled a bill that would force Beijing-backed businesses to divest their interest in U.S. agricultural land and prevent more from buying acreage.
In the House, Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) introduced similar legislation to block China from purchasing American farmland.
Similar efforts have been introduced before to no avail, leading Kolkhorst to call on states to act where the federal government has “failed” by invoking their right to protect themselves and the country at large.
“I would like to see the federal government act,” he said. “But we must step up where the federal government stands down.”