PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The chair of America First Policy Institute’s China Policy Initiative spoke to several dozen South Dakota lawmakers at the state Capitol on Monday at the invitation of Governor Kristi Noem.

Steve Yates explained why, from his perspective, it would be a good idea for the Legislature to approve the governor’s plan for a committee that would review and decide whether to recommend allowing purchases of agricultural land by foreign persons or foreign entities or foreign governments.

Rachel Oglesby, the governor’s policy director, said the legislation was still in draft form. She said it would be filed in the coming days. Copies of the current draft were available at the meeting.

A current set of state laws regarding alien ownership of agricultural land has never been enforced, according to Alan Vester, the governor’s deputy legal counsel.

Yates has been with AFPI since February 2022. He worked in and out of government and academia, including as a deputy assistant to Vice President Dick Cheney for four years and previously as a U.S. Defense Department analyst for five years. He started studying Chinese languages at age 18 and lived for a period in Taiwan.

Yates said Ellsworth Air Force Base just east of Rapid City could have a strategic importance to the Communist Party of China. He said Communist China uses a “whole of society” approach to infiltrate other nations.

“I don’t want us to be less open. I want us to be smartly open,” Yates said. “We see America’s land as a strategic resource.”

He pointed to a 5,000% increase in China’s purchase of land in Maryland from 2010 to 2020.  Yates said it’s best to get a system in place in South Dakota before the purchases ramp up.

“They see the value of American assets as a safe harbor for them,” he said about wealthy Chinese investors. “That means the Communist Party of China can use them as points of leverage if something were to occur.”

He asked, “Do you really want the Communist Party of China as your neighbor?”

Noem’s proposed committee would have five members: the state cabinet secretary of agriculture and natural resources; the director of the state Office of Homeland Security; a governor’s designee who would be the chairperson; an individual owner of at least 160 acres of agricultural land who “in the opinion of the governor, has expertise in the agriculture industry:” and “an individual who, in the opinion of the governor, has expertise in national or state security.”

The committee’s purpose would be to “investigate and review agricultural land transactions to prevent aliens and foreign persons, including foreign governments, from gaining undue control or influence, whether direct or indirect over the state’s food supply, from gaining access or proximity to any critical infrastructure facility, or from impairing the security or prosperity of the state.”

Noem issued a news release on December 13, 2022, announcing the plan. Yates’ appearance Monday was seen by some legislators as an attempt to build more support for it.

In audience Monday was Republican Rep. Carl Perry, who had introduced his version of the legislation. He later withdrew HB-1069. He explained Monday that he was deferring to the governor’s approach.