Feb 08, 2024

Kobach asks for ban on foreign land ownership in Kansas, citing dangers from China

Posted Feb 08, 2024 12:00 AM
 Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach announced a new attempt to ban foreign ownership of Kansas farmland during a Feb. 6, 2024 news conference. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)
Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach announced a new attempt to ban foreign ownership of Kansas farmland during a Feb. 6, 2024 news conference. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)

BY: RACHEL MIPRO  Kansas Reflector

TOPEKA — Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach returned to the Statehouse to once again urge the Kansas Legislature to ban foreign land purchases in the state under the assumption countries such as China are attempting to spy on and influence the U.S. 

The newest attempt to do so, Senate Bill 446, would ban foreign individual and corporate purchases of three or more acres of land. Foreign land leases would be capped at less than two years. 

“We are the only state in the breadbasket that has no prohibition whatsoever, no restriction whatsoever, on foreign nationals and foreign corporations purchasing our land, which means it’s open season,” Kobach said during a Tuesday news conference.

 Kobach said the change would also prevent drug cartels from sweeping into the state. 

“It’s not just China, it’s also Mexican drug cartels,” Kobach said. “Mexican drug cartels have purchased a huge amount of land in Texas, Oklahoma and California.”

When asked if he could provide any evidence of cartel activity or of foreign entities operating in the state, Kobach said these activities were hard to track and under-reported. 

“The Chinese have sought to acquire control for a variety of purposes,” Kobach said.  “Some say it’s leverage over the United States, some say it’s just securing their own food supply. And others say it has a secondary purpose of surveillance depending on the location.” 

Kobach has pushed similar legislation before, though none of the bills gained much traction. 

This iteration of the foreign land ban would set up a five-member state land council to review  requests for exemptions. The council would have the authority to grant case exceptions. Council members would include the attorney general, the adjutant general, the governor, the secretary of state and the director of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, or such members’ designees. 

Kansas State Sen. Mike Thompson, who accompanied Kobach to endorse the bill, said the legislation was a “clear-cut way” to protect Kansans while allowing “good” people from other countries to still invest in state land. 

Thompson is the chair of the Senate Committee on Federal and State Affairs, where the bill is scheduled to be heard Wednesday. With older farmers retiring and young people leaving rural areas, Thompson said these areas are open to outside threats. 

“They’re leaving vast areas of the state vulnerable to acquisition by opportunistic bad actors from countries that wish Americans harm,” Thompson said. 

While Republicans at a state and federal level have increasingly focused on China as a global threat, with multiple states debating and passing legislation limiting foreign farmland purchases. The actual extent of foreign land ownership remains murky. 

One 2022 USDA report puts foreign holdings of U.S. agricultural land at over 43.4 million acres, or 3.4% of all privately held U.S. agricultural land and nearly 2% of all U.S. land. Of this foreign ownership, China held an estimated 346,915 acres, less than 1%, though the report notes that China’s interest could be under-represented due to filing classifications. 

Thompson and Kobach both pointed to Cnano Technology USA as an example of local outcomes they hope to prevent. The China-based company plans to locate a $94.7 million manufacturing plant in Johnson County to make liquid conductive paste used in products such as cell phones and vehicle batteries. 

Though the county approved the move, others have claimed the company has subversive ties. U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner, a Republican serving the 2nd District of eastern Kansas, called for a federal investigation into Cnano earlier this month. 

During Tuesday’s news conference, Thompson warned against similar moves. 

“An insatiable desire for economic development without any vetting process whatsoever for nano at the county level, has led now to Kansas taxpayers supporting a Chinese-owned entity that’s inserted themselves into the industrial supply chain,” Thompson said. “It takes very little imagination to comprehend the dangers of that type of arrangement.”