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Chinese Take-Out: Noem’s Unsuccessful Ag-Land-Control Plan Wouldn’t Stop Wily Asian Spies

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?


  1. larry kurtz 2023-02-27

    The KSA gave $2 billion to the Trump Organization for stolen classified documents and to cover up the butchering of a journalist but China is the villain?

    South Dakota’s current Republican governor wants to restrict land ownership by “countries that hate us.” Fact is, of the 195 countries on the planet most them probably hate us but many have parts of the trillions stashed in the state’s banks and trusts anyway. Recall she called Georgia’s two Democratic US Senators, Communists from the state that controls much of the means of production.

  2. Edwin Arndt 2023-02-27

    FYI: A chinese company called Fu Fung bought 373 acres of land near Grand Forks, ND, and also
    near the Grand Forks airbase for the purpose of building a wet corn milling plant. The city of
    Grand Forks vigorously supported the plant. Some in the North Dakota congressional delegation
    had concerns about how this might affect national security. Long story short, a letter from some
    air force big wig strongly suggested that the whole project be terminated, and now it will not happen.
    You can google–Fu Fung plant terminated by air force– if you want to do some research.

  3. Donald Pay 2023-02-27

    A few years ago my daughter was telling me about a project that used balloons to deliver pesticides to rice crops in China more accurately. I’m not sure how they did that, and why they would use balloons rather than drones. Her first job in China was to work for a non-government organization that was trying to limit pesticide application to make food staples less toxic. I recall she said something about Raven Industries being interested in or involved in similar endeavors in China. I’m not sure if Raven followed through.

    It certainly doesn’t hurt the US if a few acres are owned by a foreign entity. In fact, if I were Governor, I’d be facilitating cross-cultural learning that can help both countries’ agricultural systems. I know SDSU has a program with very broad global intentions, and respected agricultural research programs. Why not take advantage of the strengths of that institution and the state?

  4. e platypus onion 2023-02-27

    What would stop Chinese, or anyone else, from having someone buy land with their money?

  5. Nick Nemec 2023-02-27

    Any Chinese spy worth their salt would fly under the radar and rent a double wide in Box Elder off the end of the runway and cram it full of sneaky eavesdropping stuff rather than go the effort of making a high profile, actual land purchase.

  6. All Mammal 2023-02-27

    If we are going to assume China has the time and gumption to spy on SD (haha) in their spare time while they’re not busy feeding a billion people, I hate to break it to KN, but private business owners already bought the spy detector from the Chinese and plugged them into their businesses all over our paranoid land. And I suspect the intel they have collected so far is only informing the Chinese what NOT to do with farmland.

    In countless bars, taverns, inns, lounges, taprooms, and even saloons, there are cumbersome league certified dart boards plugged in, equipped with multiple live cameras, and logged onto the world wide web. The first time I shot darts on one of these sophisticated machines and saw a clear shot of my face and a zoomed out shot of my stance at the throw line on a built-in screen, in color, I was like, “What in the wide, wide world of sports is going on here?!” Nobody in SD is attempting to play a dart match with folks in China in real time, but we could. Whew. These common dart boards can easily give the Chinese, or anyone who pays a subscription (cops, prosecutors, lovers, employers, etc) the ability to listen and watch all those personal, business, military, and political rendezvous. If you really want to get the skinny on what a spread-out population is up to, perching as a fly on the wall of their local watering hole would be a whole lot more pragmatic than what KN can come up with.

    Stop hating China because last time I checked, they aren’t responsible for poisoning my family’s water. They aren’t the ones shooting and beating people in the streets of Rapid City. They have not taken my rights away. They never even came after my constitutional freedom to vote or petition or protest. My state has, though.

  7. Mark Anderson 2023-02-27

    It will simply mean more feral trumpie hazing of Americans with Chinese backgrounds, but what the hey.

  8. Donald Pay 2023-02-27

    I don’t understand the paranoia exhibited by either country. It’s not as if China isn’t cranking up their stupidity level as well. Lots of tightening over there on NGOs and private companies, particularly those with foreign involvement. The world would have been better off without Trump and Xi, two “ralpha males” who locked us into an ever-worsening situation. Biden doesn’t seems to be unable to unlock it.

  9. Jake 2023-02-27

    We’ve all heard the old saying –“You just can’t fix ‘Stupid’;”—-which adequately describes this and so many more of the ‘right-wing’ conservative mind-set! “Fear” and “wanting things to be ‘Like they used to”–are the main concepts of the current GOP minds……

  10. SuperSweet 2023-02-27

    To me, China land purchases isn’t about spying. It’s about them owning us; ag production and other elements of the economy. China plays the long game.

  11. 96Tears 2023-02-27

    Exactly, SuperSweet. If you know your history of China (not the Hillsdale version), China has always preferred to be an insulated nation. It has enough going on inside China, its leaders don’t want the distraction of the outside world unless it affects their bottom line. During Mike Rounds’ term as Governor, legislators and the Pierre Power Elite couldn’t get enough of Chinese markets and investments in South Dakota (EB-5 especially). At that time, they swore up and down that no danger was posed, only vast opportunities to feed China’s massive and growing middle class. Not once did they refer to China as communist.

    The paranoia in the U.S. is all about “the audience of one,” Donald Trump, who still keeps Republicans shaking in their silk stockings and clutching their pearls. The Biden administration doesn’t want to hand the Trumpanzees any more talking points. The hype will end the day after the 2024 election.

    The reality is simple. China will become the #1 superpower within one or two generations — without firing a shot. As you said, it’s only ever been about the long game.

  12. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2023-02-27

    96 aptly reminds us that Noem’s party used to love Chinese investment in South Dakota’s agribusinesses via the EB-5 visa program. We sent Richard Benda and Joop Bollen to China to encourage Chinese investors to buy into projects much like that milling plant Edwin tells us about up in North Dakota.

    EB-5 was going on while Norm was in the Legislature. It blew up while she was in Congress. Never do I recall Noem speaking up then against increasing Chinese investment in South Dakota agribusiness. Never do I recall her suggesting that South Dakota’s selling green cards to rich Chinese investors (and it’s hard to get rich in China if you’re not in the good graces of the Chinese Communist Party) posed a national security threat.

  13. e platypus onion 2023-02-27

    Maybe China wanted to get in on the ground floor of some heavy furred coyote pelts for parka trimming.

  14. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2023-02-27

    SuperSweet brings us back to food security, the issue that used to headline Noem’s concerns about Chinese ownership of farmland. (I get the impression “food security” isn’t as sexy an issue as “military spying” in the ears of Noem’s listeners on Fox and Steve Bannon’s podcasts.) He also raises the specter of broader Chinese ownership and control of our economy, something I seem to recall people talking about back in the 1980s with respect to Japan. Such fears about Japan’s owning us seem not to have been realized… but then Japan wasn’t trying as hard as China is now to achieve superpower status.

    Buying up South Dakota assets to exert economic influence seems a surer, more straightforward route to checking American hegemony and asserting Chinese power than sitting on top of a dusty hill northeast of Box Elder with binoculars and hoping to catch a useful glimpse of some new secret plane.

    But economic dominance takes two to tango. If China wants to buy ranchland around Ellsworth, it has to find a willing seller. China can’t take land by eminent domain (unless they want to build a pipeline?). What patriotic South Dakotan is going to sell land to the Red Menace? And if some South Dakota landowners do want to do business with Chinese investors or other foreign interests, is it really a proper role of government to block that free-market transaction?

    If China does buy some of the means of agricultural production (as it has with Smithfield Foods), what’s the worst China can do with those assets? Make lots of yummy food that Americans want to buy? Leave the land fallow and the meatpacking plants idle to starve us out?

    Does this bid for economic dominance ever turn to denying Americans access to vital supplies? China can’t starve us out unless it buys everything and shuts other producers (Iowa! Canada! Ukraine!) out of the market. Consolidating monopoly control of global agriculture seems pretty tricky; to do so, China would have to fight a force perhaps even more fearsome than the United States Armed Forces: the other global ag corporations who have no desire to see their dominance upended by Commies. Why would those corporations let China shut them out of the market? Why would those corporations let China starve us when those corporations could make a buck by feeding us?

    Can China assert economic influence only by forever producing and turning a big-dollar profit on consumer goods? China can’t force us to buy their goods; Americans have to be willing to buy, so China has to produce goods that compete on price and/or quality. So if China buys South Dakota farmland and hog lots and meatpacking plants and gains market share that currently belongs to other global corporate powers, are we really in any worse position?

  15. larry kurtz 2023-02-27

    Mrs. Noem will say anything to keep the cash pouring into her war chest including piling on the bogeyman du jour. It’s as predictable as booing Big Gubmint until the next disaster declaration.

  16. grudznick 2023-02-27

    Turns out on the news the Chinese bogeyman cut the COVID bugs loose after all.

    Whodathunk that Mr. Trump was right about something?

  17. Mark Anderson 2023-02-27

    Well China opened up for thirty years, now they have become like the Russkies, a one man rule authoritarian to the max. Encouraged under trumpies but Biden has reversed the authoritarian wave sweeping the world by embracing Democratic rule and by gosh, its working. Brazil, Ukraine, NATO expansion, Taiwan. The trumpies are fighting each other in Florida which is good. Every crazy is rushing to Florida including the former ruler of Brazil so it’s bad that way but perhaps good in the long run. Our girly voiced shortstop is going national but now he can’t just talk to the circle jerk troops. He has to expose himself. The first Repub presidential debate should be wonderful.

  18. larry kurtz 2023-02-27

    The Obama Administration cut funding to the lab in Wuhan after teams from Australia, the US and China discovered this novel coronavirus strain in 2015 but it took Donald Trump to weaponize it. In past years the Trump Organization has used the federal courts to punish tribal nations who built casinos Trump said were competition so he slow-walked resources to reservations effectively deploying COVID-19 as a biological weapon in Indian Country.

    We all know Republican South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem is a racist so my home state went from being America’s laughing stock to becoming a co-conspirator in hate crimes. Of course she knows Native Americans and other children of color are more at risk to Covid-19 so exposing them in greater numbers translates to fewer Democratic voters and more money for the medical industry triopoly.

  19. Mark Anderson 2023-02-27

    Grudz believes anything. He’s very gullible. It’s those breakfasts.

  20. grudznick 2023-02-27


  21. SuperSweet 2023-02-27

    “China can’t force us to buy their goods; Americans have to be willing to buy…” Try to find a television set or certain other appliances that are made in America. About eight countries have the corner on some of these goods. They can’t force us to buy, but you might go without if you don’t .

  22. 96Tears 2023-02-27

    If you’re a retiring farmer in Hamlin County, where Empress Kristi allegedly comes from, and you sold your two sections to a Chinese agent, it might raise a few eyebrows. But if you sold to the Hutterite Colonies, that’s when folks will start screaming.

    If Noem wants to get the dumb rednecks bobbing their heads and getting all worked up, propose a ban on selling to these communist Hutterite colonies. Are they not the American example of communism at work? Explain why that’s not true. BTW, I don’t care about their collectives on American soil. They’re a great example of how to beat the capitalist system by working together.

  23. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2023-02-28

    The fact that several other nations—all southeast Asian, right?—have cornered the market on TVs and other appliances would seem to offer an empirical test of Kristi’s thesis that we can’t let the means of production fall into foreign hands. What harm has come from foreign dominance of manufacturing

  24. Marie 2023-02-28

    Per Farm and Food File/AFIBI China owns only 1% of foreign owned farmland in the US.
    Gov. Noem fails to mention that as she uses the “China” word of the day to maintain her national media search profile.

    Guebert: Biggest foreign owner of U.S. ‘ag land’ isn’t who you think The AFIDA report shows, as of Dec. 31, 2021, Chinese entities owned 383,935 acres of U.S. ag land or just under 1 percent of the 40 million foreign-owned acres of total U.S. farmland.

    12/31/2022 USDA
    USDA Report: Foreign Holdings of U.S. Agricultural Land Through December 31, 2021

  25. Donald Pay 2023-02-28

    SuperSweet is correct about food security. Spying is not the goal. Food security is. They have had lots of problems with swine and chicken diseases, excess rains and occasional droughts that cause price hikes and dissatisfaction. At this point the people of China are not going to put up with food shortages or spoiled food being used because they can’t get good quality products. They also want to learn from the US and other western countries about food quality. They are also more and more going to the factory farm approach. If anything, they would buy SD farmland to grow soy/corn for animal feed.

  26. Edwin Arndt 2023-02-28

    Cory, we get a lot of computer chips for cars from China. I hope that
    the USA can start making more of the stuff that is strategic for our economy.
    We also get roughly 40% of the ingredients we use for manufacturing farm
    chemicals from China. I wish that this situation would be recognized and
    some corrective action would be taken. My opinion, the USA should be a lot
    more self sufficient in a lot of the stuff that we absolutely need.

  27. Mark Anderson 2023-02-28

    96Tears, Hosmer had to close their retirement home. Now it’s Hutterite Hosmer. It’s a woke way to go.

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