Georgia may limit farm purchases by China 'agent'

2024-03-27 Editor : Li Yan ECNS App Download

The Georgia House of Representatives has passed and sent to the state Senate a bill that would ban any "agent" of China from buying farmland or land near military sites.

The House bill — SB420, passed on March 20 — is different from the one passed previously in the Georgia Senate.

The Senate bill would have expanded the ban to all foreign nationals who are not legal U.S. residents, to China and four other countries.

SB420 is similar to legislation attempted or passed in a few other states that aim to limit land ownership by citizens from China and several other countries.

The vote in the Georgia House was 97-67 along party lines, with most Republican members voting for it and most Democratic members against it.

Even though the bill bans "agent of a foreign government designated as a foreign adversary by the United States secretary of commerce", the house debate prior to the vote was primarily directed at China. By its definition, the foreign adversaries currently include China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea and Russia.

"An agent" is defined as a person who acts on behalf of the foreign government or a business domiciled in the country. The ban doesn't apply to residential property.

Democratic Representative Michelle Au questioned how to determine if someone is an agent of an adversarial government and accused the bill of being racist.

"Who's doing that investigation? What would trigger that suspicion? And would that be applied equally to everyone looking to buy or lease property?" Au asked. "These bills aim to weaponize racism, xenophobia, and anti-immigrant sentiment while wrapping itself in the cloak of national security and patriotism."

Representative Sam Park also questioned the logic of the bill. "I remain equally perplexed in that multiple Republican legislators have stated that this bill is focused on Chinese nationals while at the same time China remains one of the top trading partners for Georgia's agricultural exports that exceeded $5 .8 billion in 2023," he said.

"If you all really believe all the rhetoric that China is coming after America, would it not make sense for the state of Georgia to divest entirely and stop all trade with China? Or is that a step too far because it hurts your bottom line?" Park continued.

"Passage of this bill will cast a shadow of suspicion on any Asian or Hispanic-looking person who may want to purchase agricultural land or land near a military installation even if that person may be serving in our armed forces," he said.

Similar land laws passed last year in Florida, Alabama, Louisiana and Arkansas. The Florida land law was challenged in court, and the case is now before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

While the court is scheduled to hear the argument in April, it has also temporarily blocked its enforcement on the grounds that it might be preempted by federal law.


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