Ain’t Gonna Work On Meili’s Farm No More

Grain elevators. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

Can you beat this?  According to the New York Times, “The Senate voted overwhelmingly to block businesses based in China from purchasing farmland in the United States.”  The vote was 91-7. The reason for this is not, as you might suspect, to prevent good old American farmland from being used to produce bok choy, pak choy, pok choy, or, God forbid, gai choy, but rather to “clamp down on China’s ability to gain vantage points for intelligence gathering.”[1]


The reasoning behind this weird enactment becomes a bit clearer when one notes that the Senate voted in the same bill to force Americans to notify the Treasury Department of any investments they might make in China’s “national security industries.” “National security industries” are defined to include the producers of semiconductors, AI, and other high-tech products, whether they are military suppliers or not.  Since virtually all high-tech innovations have the potential for “dual use” (civilian and military), these sanctions actually prevent investments in Chinese manufacturing across the board.

In other words, the U.S. Senate has decided that we are already in a cold war with China, Russia, and other “adversaries” and must break off any economic relationship that could conceivably be used against us if (or, more honestly, when) the war gets hot. Why would they reach such a conclusion?  We don’t have to speculate about this, since the leading deliberators in ‘the world’s greatest deliberative body’ have voices as loud as they are clear.

Jon Tester (D-Montana), co-author of the farmland bill, answers without hesitation: “This is a crucial step toward making sure we aren’t handing over valuable American assets to foreign entities who want to replace us as the world’s leading military and economic power.”

What a statement!  I could teach a whole course on it.

“Valuable American assets” now includes soybean farms in Iowa and cannabis farms in California, presumably because they could be used for . . . intelligence purposes?  The real reason is psychological: you can’t have untrustworthy foreigners owning American soil – the sacred body of the nation. The last time non-Americans were banned from owning U.S. farmland for alleged reasons of national security was during World War II, when Japanese landowners throughout the West were evicted and forced to live in concentration camp-like villages. That war in the Pacific, by the way, was made virtually inevitable by a decision to stop trading with Japan in oil and scrap metals.

“Foreign entities” refers to businesses owned by non-Americans – horrors!  Out in beautiful but isolated Montana, folks like Senator Tester may not know that foreign investments, currently totaling approximately $16 trillion, include about 40% of stocks traded on American exchanges.  Without the participation of the Chinese and other alien investors, the U.S. stock market would go directly into the toilet. Senators and other politicians like to pretend that economic sanctions and boycotts are acts of cold hostility rather than war.  But when you stop foreigners from investing in your economy and you stop investing in theirs, that is a sign that a hot war is imminent.

These foreign (i.e., Chinese) businesses, declares Sen. Tester, “want to replace us.”  When he utters these words, one wonders if he and his colleagues in both parties understand that they are echoing a fascist chant. Far Right extremists direct the cries of “They will not replace us” at other “foreign entities” in the American body politic, such as people of color and Jews.  But Tester would no doubt insist that the Chinese don’t want to replace us as members of a particular race or religion. They want to replace us” as is “the world’s leading military and economic power.”

Does a Senator blush when he says something like this?  Clearly not.  Most U.S. politicians, regardless of party, are quite comfortable declaring that the United States will, by God, maintain its position as the world’s only superpower, and that it will view any challenge to this position as the act of an enemy.

“Leading,” of course, is a weasel-word. It is an attempt to avoid saying “dominant,” but that is exactly what it means: we lead, you follow. And for empire-builders it isn’t enough to be the dominant military power, with bases in 100 nations and a military budget greater than that of the next ten most militaristic nations combined. No – we must also be the dominant economic power, able to seize investment and finance opportunities, control sources of raw materials and supplies, dominate labor markets, produce whatever we want to produce, and enforce unequal terms of trade on everyone else, whether they like it or not.

U.S. Senators do not read Lenin, of course, so they do not recognize the essence of an imperialist foreign policy. Do they ever read Rudyard Kipling?  Probably not, although the famous imperialist poet gave voice to the spirit that animates most of them. “We don’t want to fight, but by Jingo if we do, we’ve got the ships, we’ve got the men, we’ve got the money too.”

The anti-Chinese farmland and investment bill, reeking of paranoia and racism, is Jingoism in action. Rather than providing an economic alternative to military struggle, it is all too clearly another step toward world war. The almost-unanimous vote on the measure recalls Congressional votes leading up to other wars, when to oppose military mobilization was to be branded an enemy agent.  It also gives the lie to the notion, much beloved by American “progressives,” that Congressional power is the key to a more peaceful U.S. foreign policy.  Until we can talk turkey about empire and its discontents, it won’t matter which party or which branch of government is calling the shots.


[1] Karoun Demirjian, “Senate Votes to Restrict China’s Buying U.S. Farms.” New York Times, 7/26/23, p.4