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Legislation would block hostile actors from land purchase near U.S. military bases

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Victor Skinner

(The Center Square) – Legislation in Congress would block China and foreign adversaries from buying land around U.S. military installations, including six major bases in North Carolina.

U.S. Sen. Ted Budd, R-NC, is cosponsoring Protecting Military Installations and Ranges Act, which was reintroduced by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX. The legislation targets efforts by hostile actors from China, Russia, Iran and North Korea to acquire U.S. land close to U.S. military installations or areas.

The bill would also empower the Department of Defense to prevent construction on any site under federal investigation.

The Army’s Fort Bragg and Pope Air Force Base is in the southeastern part of the state; Seymour Johnson Air Force Base is in eastern North Carolina; and Marine Corps Air Station Camp Lejeune and MCAS New River are along the coast, not more than an hour's drive from the more inland MCAS Cherry Point. Two Coast Guard bases are on the northern coast at Elizabeth City; and the Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point is on the southern coast in Brunswick County. There are other locations that would qualify under the bill.

It’s a national security measure, and for the Old North State, there are thousands of troops and billions of dollars in economic impact linked to the bases.

“The increasing strategy, employed by nations like China, of buying up land near military facilities around the country is a direct threat to our national security,” Budd said. “As a senator from a state which has eight military installations and is home to thousands of active duty service members and veterans, this is a threat that must be directly confronted and stopped.”

Cruz previously introduced the bill in 2021, after offering similar legislation as an amendment to the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act.

The latter was in response to a growing number of Chinese-owned wind farms disrupting operations on southern and western Texas military training routes, and would have empowered the Defense Department's Siting Clearinghouse to conduct a more thorough review of wind farm construction near military installations.

“I’m proud to help secure our national security interests with this common sense bill to safeguard our infrastructure and instillations against governments and regimes that threaten the United States,” Cruz said. “The espionage threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party is acute, persistent, and has repeatedly endangered the safety and security of Texas and indeed all Americans. The CCP cannot be allowed to expand those efforts by purchasing land near installations that are integral to our national security.”

Similar House legislation was reintroduced last week by U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-TX, titled “Protecting Military Installations from Foreign Espionage Act,” which aims to address the same issue.

Gonzalez penned a letter to former U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in January 2021 that raised concerns about GH America Energy, a subsidiary of China’s Guanghei Energy Company. It purchased 130,000 acres in Texas’ Val Verde County in 2015 near Laughlin Air Force Base, the branch’s largest training base.

In addition to concerns about a company with CCP ties linking into the power grid, Gonzalez highlighted potential implications for national security, despite assurances from the Committee on Foreign Investment that the deal did not pose security concerns.

“If they are not already, the CCP could use this site to gather intelligence on Air Force pilot training, as well as United States border security operations,” he wrote.

Similar land purchases would not be possible under Cruz’s bill, which would deny purchases linked to adversaries within 100 miles of a military installation, or within 50 miles of a military training route.