By Merrilee Gasser | The Center Square contributor
(The Center Square) - Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin announced Tuesday he has ordered a Chinese state-owned company to give up approximately 160 acres of land it currently owns in Craighead County.
Griffin said the owner failed to report foreign ownership within the time allowed by law. Act 636 of 2023 banned nine foreign entities identified as enemies of the United States from owning Arkansas agricultural land.
The land in question is owned by Northrup King Seed Co., a subsidiary of Syngenta Seeds, LLC, which is owned by China National Chemical Company, or ChemChina, according to the attorney general’s office.
ChemChina is on the Department of Defense’s list of Chinese military companies posing a clear threat, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday.
“For too long, in the name of tolerance, we’ve let these dangerous governments infiltrate our country. Arkansas will tolerate them no longer,” said Sanders. “I was proud to sign Act 636 sponsored by Sen. Johnson and Rep. Vaught banning foreign parties from nine enemy countries from owning agricultural land in Arkansas. And today we are acting on that law.”
Arkansas is the first state in the country to take such an action, Sanders said.
ChemChina has two years to divest its land ownership, which has been used primarily for seed research.
“If they refuse to sell, our attorney general can move forward with legal proceedings and force them to get out of our state,” Sanders said.
Griffin’s office also imposed a civil penalty of $280,000, the highest penalty allowed, for failure to report foreign ownership in the time required by Act 1046 of 2021. The fine represents 25% of the property's reported fair market value, valued at over $1 million, according to the attorney general.
“For those of you who think this is some sort of outlier, you’re wrong. I’ve been in the military for almost 30 years, and I can tell you one of the most consistent themes over the last decade at least has been warnings about the Communist Chinese, what they will do and what they are doing. So this is smart and this is strategic,” Griffin said.
The attorney general said there is a decades-long historical pattern of the Chinese government taking interest in non-military assets.
“We had congressional hearings in the late 90’s in Washington on dual-use technologies, civilian related technologies that the Chinese were obtaining from the United States," Griffin said. "There is nothing that is off limits for them if they think that it will strengthen them strategically, whether it be related to engineering or the ability to feed their people, which is a challenge for them. We’ve had some instances in some federal prosecutions in this state that relate to seed techno log.”
The attorney general said he has “no reason to believe” the company won’t comply with the order to divest.
The Center Square contacted Syngenta officials for comment but did not receive a response.