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Virginia Senate approves bill targeting Chinese government ownership of farmland

Governor Glenn Youngkin surprised many lawmakers at the beginning of the General Assembly session by backing away from thousands of jobs in a struggling part of Southside Virginia because of the company's connections to China. Now lawmakers are considering a bill that would prohibit foreign adversaries from buying Virginia farmland.

Senator Dave Marsden is a Democrat who voted in favor of the bill. "When you're dealing with a country with a business model such as the People's Republic of China, you don't know where the money is coming from -- whether it's a government interest being represented by a private citizen or whether it's a legitimate business," Marsden said. "It's very difficult to determine whereas with other of our trading partners it's a little more clear what's a private business and what's government business."

The bill's sponsor, Republican Richard Stuart, warned of potential spying from properties near military bases and other sensitive sites. Stuart noted that a U. S. Navy installation in his district recently shot down an out-of-control satellite. "And they did some sophisticated calculation to shoot that thing down before it hit the earth. Do we really want a foreign adversary next to that base learning what they are doing because then they could thwart our efforts if they were the ones who were responsible for that thing coming down to hit the earth."

Senator Chap Petersen is a Democrat from Fairfax City who voted against the bill. "If you have a real-estate practice, what this means is to go to closing you now have to prove a negative, which is that your client is not an agent of a foreign adversary," Petersen said. "And oftentimes many of us who represent foreign clients or Asian clients in closings, what that's going to do is basically slow down this process."

Four Senate Democrats crossed party lines to vote with Republicans, and the Republican-controlled House is certain to pass some version of this bill. So it seems likely to reach the governor's desk next month.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.