A recent report has revealed that Chinese billionaire Chen Tianqiao is now the second-largest foreign landowner in the United States, after purchasing over 200,000 acres of timberland in central Oregon last year.
Background on Chen Tianqiao and His Company
Chen Tianqiao is the founder and CEO of Shanda Group, a private investment firm based in Singapore. He founded Shanda Interactive Entertainment in 1999, which became one of the largest online game developers and operators in China. In 2015, he took the company private in a $1.9 billion deal.
Shanda Group oversees Chen’s diversified global investments across technology, real estate, healthcare, and more. The firm has made substantial investments in US companies and real estate over the past decade.
Chen, who has an estimated net worth of $6 billion, resides in Singapore as a naturalized citizen. While Chen claims he relinquished his Chinese citizenship years ago, his ties to mainland China remain strong.
Details of the Oregon Land Purchase
In 2022, an affiliate of Shanda Group purchased 232 square miles of timberland in central Oregon for $626 million. The vast property spans Jefferson, Crook, and Deschutes counties.
It was purchased from SDS Lumber Co, owned by the Emmerson family, who has been in the lumber business for generations. The family made the difficult decision to sell amid changing market conditions and regulations.
This acquisition makes Shanda America one of the largest timberland owners in Oregon. And it catapults Chen Tianqiao up the ranks of the biggest foreign holders of US land.
Concerns Over National Security Implications
The purchase of such vast swaths of US land by a Chinese billionaire with ties to Beijing is raising alarm bells for some policymakers.
Senator Jon Tester of Montana stated, “We cannot allow China’s influence, through foreign real estate purchases, to impact U.S. national security.” He called for a ban on Chinese land purchases and is pushing legislation to block foreign adversaries from buying American farmland.
The foreign acquisition of American farmland and natural resources pose risks, warn experts. China has strategic aims to dominate global industries like timber and agriculture. Purchasing vast tracts of land and productive timber operations provides increased leverage.
There are also concerns over dual-use facilities situated on these foreign-owned lands. Remote ranches, farms, and forests could be exploited for surveillance or military purposes during a conflict.
Oversight on Foreign Land Investments Lacking
A recent report from the Government Accountability Office highlights flaws in the tracking of foreign investments in American farmland.
While foreign entities are required to report agricultural land purchases to the USDA, many slip through the cracks. The GAO investigation found that the USDA’s data is incomplete and inaccurate.
|Agricultural Land Purchases Reported to USDA
|Actual Agricultural Land Purchased by Foreign Entities*
|15 million acres
|Over 30 million acres
|39.6 million acres
|Likely over 50 million acres
^(* Estimates based on county-level data)
Without accurate data, policymakers are unable to quantify the true scale of foreign agricultural land ownership. Nor can they determine if adversaries like China are actively and stealthily expanding their footprint in the American heartland.
Tighter oversight and improved data tracking are urgently needed, experts say.
Local Response in Oregon Mixed
The response in local Oregon counties to news of the mega land deal has been mixed.
While some express concerns about Chinese influence and goals, others welcome the investment and tax revenue. Shanda has pledged to continue managing the timberlands for wood production, providing local jobs and economic activity.
Jefferson County Commissioner Kelly Simmelink stated, “As long as they’re continuing on with the wood production and harvesting practices, we’re hoping it remains status quo.”
Groups like CORE Oregon Rising see cause for caution, however. The group advocates for greater scrutiny of sales of Oregon land and infrastructure to undisclosed foreign buyers.
What Comes Next?
The controversial mega purchase in central Oregon has trained the spotlight on Chinese land acquisitions in the US. It may serve as a tipping point for lawmakers to finally take action curbing foreign control over America’s resources and potential national security vulnerabilities.
In coming weeks, expect renewed calls for:
- Improved monitoring and transparency laws surrounding foreign investment in US land and agriculture.
- Crackdowns on money laundering and complex ownership structures used to obscure purchasers.
- Limiting or severely restricting adversarial countries like China from control of US farmland, ranches, forests, and water rights.
Rest assured this explosive story will continue dominating headlines in the coming months. America’s growing dependence on foreign entities to own vital strategic resources is an issue of critical economic and national security interests.
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