Retired Navy Adm. John Kirby, who is currently serving as a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, dodged questions about Chinese entities buying up real estate around U.S. military bases in a Tuesday press briefing.
On Tuesday, a reporter noted that many Chinese investors are making cash offers above asking price for U.S. real estate near U.S. military bases, often successfully buying up that land with these highly competitive cash offers.
“I’m wondering, given the fact that a known adversary — in this case, China — foreign buyers are buying up U.S. real estate — in some cases, farms around military installations — is this on the administration’s radar?” the reporter asked. “And what is being done, perhaps, to study this or to protect Americans from making sure that homes remain affordable and so on?”
Kirby appeared to treat the question as one only pertaining to homeownership, rather than an issue of Chinese entities potentially trying to get close to surveil sensitive U.S. military installations.
“I think the question of homeownership is a little bit out of my — out of my swim lane,” Kirby said.
“No, this is actually a national security issue, particularly when it comes to around military installations,” the reporter interjected.
“What I will tell you is that the President has been nothing but clear about our concerns about Chinese unfair trade practices and economic practices,” Kirby continued.
“This isn’t about trade,” the reporter again tried to redirect the question. “This is about national security and buying up land around military installations.”
“Yeah, I’m probably not the right person to ask about homeownership here in the United States,” Kirby said once more.
“This isn’t about homeownership,” the reporter said once more, to no avail. “This is about buying up land around military installations.”
At this point, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre jumped into the exchange, saying “we’re going to keep going” and giving a different reporter the “go ahead” to ask a different question.
This question about Chinese entities buying up land near U.S. bases is not totally random.
Last year, a Chinese entity began the process to buy 140,000 acres of land near Laughlin Air Force Base in Texas and build a massive wind farm. Both state and federal lawmakers raised concerns about the project and Texas state lawmakers ultimately halted the land purchase.
In July, North Dakota Republican Sens. John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer joined Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) in a letter to the U.S. Treasury Department, scrutinizing another massive land purchase near a U.S. military base by a Chinese entity, the FuFeng Group. The Chinese food processing company has plans to set up an industrial corn mill 12 miles from Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota. Lawmakers warned that the mill could be used to provide a vantage point to surveil flights in and out of the base.
In May the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC) published a report which said the location of the proposed Fufeng mill would be “particularly convenient for monitoring air traffic flows in and out of the base, among other security-related concerns.”
Grand Forks AFB is home to 319th Reconnaissance Wing, which is one of the major operators of RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aerial reconnaissance vehicles.
Given these widely publicized examples of Chinese land purchases that U.S. security officials have assessed could be used to surveil U.S. bases, it is unclear why a national security official like Kirby couldn’t seem to understand the point of the reporter’s question.