President Biden’s National Security Council spokesman on Tuesday brushed off a reporter’s question about Chinese land purchases in the US — calling it a “homeownership issue.”

The dismissive response from John Kirby came despite bipartisan concern about land-buys near military bases, including from the chairman of the Democrat-led Senate intelligence committee.

Al Jazeera reporter Kimberly Halkett asked Kirby at the daily White House briefing about Chinese entities, some of them linked to the Chinese government, “buying up US real estate, in some cases farms around military installations.”

“Is that on the administration’s radar and what is being done perhaps to study this or to protect Americans — from making sure that homes remain affordable and so on?” Halkett asked.

Kirby attempted to shrug off the inquiry by choosing to focus only on part of the question.

“I think the question of homeownership is a little bit out of my swim lane,” Kirby said.

Halkett clarified, “It’s actually a national security issue, particularly when it comes to around military installations.”

John Kirby believes Chinese land purchases in the US are a “homeownership issue.”
Chris Kleponis – CNP

Kirby, a former Pentagon spokesman, again avoided the main issue and said, “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.”

Halkett interjected, “This isn’t about trade, this is about national security and buying up land around the military installations.”

“I’m probably not the right person to ask about homeownership here in the United States,” Kirby repeated.

“This isn’t about home ownership,” Halkett again clarified. “This is about buying up land around military installations. Is that a concern to this administration?”

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre
“We can get back to you after. We’re going to move on,” said White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.
AP/Evan Vucci

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre moved to cut off the line of questioning, over Halkett’s protests.

“I sent this to your office last week,” Halkett told Kirby. “You’ve had a week to look at this, including the articles.”

Jean-Pierre said, “We can get back to you after. We’re going to move on.”

It’s common for White House spokespeople to end questioning at briefings by saying that they will follow up with reporters afterward, but it rarely happens, especially for contentious topics.

Members of Congress, including Senate intelligence committee chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.), expressed alarm this year over the Chinese Fufeng Group’s $2.6 million purchase of 300 acres near North Dakota’s Grand Forks Air Force Base, which hosts US drone warfare operations.

The Democratic senator told CNBC in July that “the Senate Intelligence Committee has been loudly sounding the alarm about the counterintelligence threat posed by [China].”

United States Senator Mark Warner
U.S. Sen. Mark Warner expressed his concerns over Chinese Fufeng Group’s $2.6 million purchase.
Pool via CNP /MediaPunch

The Senate intelligence committee chairman said, “We should be seriously concerned about Chinese investment in locations close to sensitive sites, such as military bases around the U.S.”

Republican Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) introduced legislation last year — before the high-profile North Dakota sale — to restrict land purchases by China, Iran, North Korea and Russia near military bases.

Cruz said at the time the bill would “ensure regimes that threaten the United States – such as the Chinese Communist Party – don’t have the ability to purchase land in order to intercept and disrupt military activities.”

Although the recent North Dakota land purchase sparked national concern and skepticism of the company’s claim to want the land for a corn mill, it is only a small aspect of Chinese investment in US property. The Texas Public Policy Foundation says that buyers from mainland China spent $6.1 billion on US real estate in 2021.

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