America’s national security community has been alerted by a Chinese company’s purchase of some U.S. farmland earlier this year. Fufeng Group is a food manufacturer based in Shandong that paid more than $2.6 million for 300 acres of real estate in North Dakota near the Grand Forks Air Force Base.
While the company says that it wants the land to build a food production plant, some security experts are warning it could be used as a base for Chinese espionage operations.
The property is just a few minutes away from the air base, which contains some of the country’s most secret drone technology. One North Dakota politician said the base serves as “the backbone” of the nation’s global military communications.
Air Force Maj. Jeremy Fox wrote an internal memo in April describing the purchase as appearing to be part of a Chinese “pattern” of using commercial real estate projects as cover for spying activities near U.S. military installations.
Fox added that the most sensitive operations at Grand Forks include digital radio communications for unmanned air and space-based systems. He said that the collection of military signals from nearby locations can not be readily detected and could be accomplished using ordinary antennas.
Fox warned that the Chinese ownership of the property presents a compromising and grave vulnerability to national security.
A May report from the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission says that Fufeng Group is not owned by the Chinese government. The report goes on, however, to state that Fufeng chairman Li Xuechun is a former upper-level Chinese Communist Party official. He has been described by the CCP as a “model laborer.”
The report does state that the close proximity of the Fufeng property to the air base would be “particularly convenient” for observing air traffic in and out of the base, along with other “security-related concerns.”
The purchase has been opposed by some members of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) told reporters that the U.S. “grossly underappreciates” how effective the Chinese are in collecting data and using it against America.
Intelligence Committee Chair Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) said the nation should be “seriously concerned” about Chinese ownership of land near U.S. military bases.
Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski said that the project was approved because the proposed Fufeng plant would bring 200 new jobs to the local economy.