Amidst all the fuss over Governor Kristi Noem’s feckless foreign-policy posturing against China—her big land-audit and purchase-veto bill failed, and the only consolation prizes the Legislature has given her are some extra bureaucracy and a promise to study the issue—it occurs to me neither the Governor nor the Legislature is really outwitting our wily Chinese enemy.
Noem’s whole pander to the paranoid right is based on the ridiculous premise that China will get a leg up on our national security secrets by buying up land near Ellsworth Air Force Base and surveilling our military activities. Never mind that China can buy and fly hundreds of spy balloons and float them over Ellsworth, the Governor’s exclusive Valhalla cabin, and any number of other sensitive sites for the cost of one ranch in Meade County where they’d be stuck paying taxes and controlling weeds for the privilege of monitoring just one air base. Let’s assume that there’s some shred of spy sense in Noem’s insistence that we’ve got to stop the Chinese from buying farm land to establish spy bases in South Dakota.
Noem’s talk has focused entirely on agricultural land. Ellsworth AFB is next to a growing city. If I were the Chinese trying to outthink Noem’s clever strategy of stopping us from buying ranch land to the north and east of the base, I’d just buy some residential or commercial land to the west and south. Heck, I’d buy the Kang San restaurant or the Domino’s Pizza on 219 Main Gate Road, open a Chinese buffet, and set up all my surveillance equipment back behind the kitchen. I’d offer 20% military discounts to all my customers from the base and then bug the tables so I could hear all the loose conversations about drills and missions and updated equipment. A restaurant or other shop in town, near the base, would be cheaper than a ranch, easier to get to, less conspicuous to our CIA watchers than a bunch of Chinese guys driving out into the open countryside all the time with binoculars, and more likely to turn a profit and pay for its own operations.
If Noem really thinks she needs to stop the Chinese from acquiring spy bases in South Dakota, she’d better take off her farm blinkers (South Dakota is so much more than farming, can I get an Amen!?) and propose banning the Chinese from buying any property in South Dakota, agricultural, residential, commercial, or industrial. She’d better require anyone buying a house or business or a Raven Aerostar balloon to submit an application to the state and receive her personal approval for the transaction.
But if we imposed that level of government control over property transactions, then we’d be no better than the Chinese we’re trying to beat, would we?