Bloomberg: Montana Senator Calls for Ban on Chinese Land Purchases Following Report

by Devon Pendleton

Montana Senator Jon Tester renewed his demands for the White House to clamp down on sales of US farmland to China following a report this week that a Chinese billionaire is among America’s biggest landowners.

Tester, a Democrat, issued a statement Friday calling for Congress to block “foreign adversaries” from buying US farmland and agribusinesses. The Land Report on Monday listed Chinese billionaire Chen Tianqiao as the country’s 82nd-largest land owner and second-biggest foreign owner.

Chen, 50, who made his fortune from a company that made online video games, owns 198,000 acres (80,127 hectares) of Oregon timberland that he purchased in 2015.

“While we learn more about the specifics around this unfolding situation, it highlights the need for Congress to do more to protect American agricultural security,” Tester said in the statement.

A call to Chen’s California office seeking comment wasn’t immediately returned.

He said he issued a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen asking them to review Chen’s purchase and suggest ways to strengthen the tracking and vetting of large land sales to foreign buyers.

Tester co-sponsored a bill last year with Senator Mike Rounds, a South Dakota Republican, to ban entities from China, Russia, North Korea and Iran from buying US agricultural land or businesses. The legislation was added to the defense spending bill and passed the Senate by a wide margin but was stripped out of the final version by House Republicans.

Foreign ownership of US land, particularly land used for farming, has become an increasingly contentious topic in recent years. About 40 million acres of American agricultural land was owned by non-US interests as of 2021, according to the most recent Department of Agriculture data, with entities from China owning the equivalent of 0.03% of all US farmland.