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Stealth War 132 Feature: PRC Efforts to Influence U.S. States’ Policies on China

By: Flora Yan

Fri May, 2023, Age: 7 months

On May 4, the Florida House of Representatives adopted Senate Bill 264 to ban Chinese citizens from owning real property, pending Florida Senate approval (Tampa Bay Times, May 5). Last week, the Texas legislature sent an amended bill that similarly banned foreign ownership of state agricultural land to Governor Greg Abbott, who had voiced his support for the legislation shortly after the measure was filed (Houston Public Media, April 25; Twitter, January 15).

The passage came after months of debate and protests organized by members of Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, who expressed concerns about racial discrimination that were also shared by various China scholars (The Hill, April 28; LA Times, May 3).

These dynamics have attracted much local and national media coverage over the past four months (New York Times, February 7; Miami Herald, May 3). They have also sparked the creation of various opposition groups on WeChat (The Diplomat, April 29).

PRC State Media Coverage and  Beijing’s Response

PRC state media appears to have been closely following these developments. Between January and April, China Daily and Global Times published 15 articles regarding these bills, seen below, with the first being an editorial mirroring the Texas legislation on the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and calling on lawmakers to refrain from allowing history to repeat itself. It also warned that those falling for “lies,” such as “Chinese are stealing jobs,” in Texas “need to know that such relentless demonization will not only hurt ties with China but also deal a blow to the local economy by curbing tourist inflow and trade” (China Daily, January 20).

Additionally, an op-ed penned in February 2023 by Zhang Tengjun, deputy director of the Asia-Pacific Studies Department at the China Institute of International Studies, a think thank under the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs, touched on this subject. Zhang stated that the legislation passed by Texas and Florida are “not conducive to the U.S.’ social stability,” but instead will “aggravate” current “security or social problems” in the country (Global Times, February 8).

English-Language PRC State Media Coverage of State Legislation Concerning China

Please don’t repeat mistake of 1882, TexasChina Daily, January 20

Texas move to shut out Chinese property buyers sparks backlashChina Daily, January 25

Red states in the US fanning xenophobia sentiment undermine internal governance, Global Times, February 8

Property purchase curbs spark outrage in Texas China Daily, February 17

2 Texas Senate bills driving Asian political participationChina Daily, March 7

Anti-China bills pile up in Texas LegislatureChina Daily, March 21

Anti-China bills piling up in TexasChina Daily, March 23

Anti-China bills pile up in Texas LegislatureChina Daily Global, March 24

Opposition voiced over anti-China bills in Texas legislatureChina Daily Global, March 25

‘Foreign adversary’ property ban advances in S. CarolinaChina Daily Global, March 30

McCarthyism is back, in word, deed and nameGlobal Times, March 30

Slew of bills aim to ban China from buying land in the US, China Daily Global, April 18

Bills aim to ban China from buying farmland in USChina Daily Global, April 19

Florida anti-China bill draws spirited protest in state capitalChina Daily Global, April 20

Senate in Texas scales back property measureChina Daily Global, April 28

Two days after the Zhang op-ed was published, at a PRC Foreign Ministry press conference on February 10, a journalist from Agence France-Presse asked: “multiple U.S. states, including Texas and Florida are considering banning Chinese citizens from buying property. This is over national security concerns. What is China’s response on this?” (MFA of PRC, February 10). PRC Foreign Ministry spokeperson Mao Ning responded by noting that “China-U.S. economic and trade cooperation is mutually beneficial and win-win in nature. To overstretch the concept of national security and politicize economic, trade and investment issues runs contrary to the principles of market economy and international trade rules, which undercuts international confidence in the U.S. market environment.” (MFA of PRC, February 10)

Background: States’ Growing Role in U.S.’ China Policy?
These moves by state lawmakers came amid continued bipartisan focus on China in the U.S. Congress. In response, Beijing is actively “redoubling its efforts to build influence at the state and local level to shift US policy in China’s favor” (ODNI, February 3), despite recently reported signs of a minor thaw in bilateral relations (CNN, May 2; VOA, May 3; Reuters, May 3; FT, May 3).

They are also part of a growing trend of state governments in the U.S. that have made countering the Chinese policy a top priority, with over 25 governors issuing directives banning TikTok from state-owned devices and networks being a prime bipartisan example (Twitter, December 28, 2022; Business Insider, January 15).

More recently, in February 2023, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem published the state’s “Blueprint to Fight Communist China” and noted that her focus in this legislative session is on protecting South Dakota agricultural lands, including by establishing the “Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States – South Dakota” (South Dakota State News, February 17).

As of today, over a dozen measures concerning other China-related issues, such as influence in higher education, trade and the potential invasion of Taiwan are pending in at least five U.S. states.

Flora Yan is a Templeton Fellow in the Asia Program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.