Chinese Billionaire’s Vast US Land Holdings Raise National Security Concerns
In a development that raises important questions about foreign ownership of American land, Chinese national Chen Tianqiao has become one of the largest non-American landholders in the United States. Chen, who amassed his wealth through online gaming, now owns a staggering 198,000 acres of Oregon timberland, ranking him as the 82nd-largest property owner in the country, according to the Land Report’s latest ranking.
This acquisition, made in 2015 for $85 million from Fidelity National Financial Ventures, was recently brought to light when Oregon tax records identified Shanda Asset Management, Chen’s Singapore-based holding group, as the beneficial owner. This makes Chen the second biggest foreign owner of American land, trailing only Canada’s Irving family, who own over 1.2 million acres of Maine timberland.
The issue of foreign ownership of US land, particularly agricultural land, has become a hot-button topic in recent years. As of 2021, non-US interests owned about 40 million acres of American agricultural land, with Chinese entities owning a tiny but symbolically significant portion of this. In response to growing concerns, some lawmakers have advocated for national rules restricting foreign investment in American farmland. In fact, the Senate recently voted to ban the sale of farmland beyond a certain size to entities from China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea, although this measure did not become law. Notably, nearly half of the states in the US have some form of restrictions on foreign ownership.
Chen Tianqiao’s journey to becoming a major US landowner started in Zhejiang Province, China. He founded Shanda Interactive, an online gaming company, in 1999, which quickly grew to be one of China’s largest internet companies and was listed on the Nasdaq in the US. Chen moved the headquarters of his holding group from China to Singapore after taking his company private in 2012. His diverse investment portfolio includes public and private equities, venture capital, and real estate. Alongside his wife, Chrissy Luo, Chen made a significant philanthropic contribution by founding the Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute for Neuroscience at the California Institute of Technology in 2016.
The trend of ultra-wealthy investors turning to farmland and rural properties as inflation hedges and uncorrelated assets has been gaining momentum. The USDA reports that the average value of US cropland jumped 8.1% last year and has increased by over a third since 2020. This surge is attributed to rising food demand, high inflation, and interest in unique properties that offer both recreational and investment potential.
The case of Chen Tianqiao owning such a vast expanse of American land is emblematic of a larger trend, where foreign nationals are investing heavily in US property. This raises critical questions about national sovereignty, economic security, and the implications of such large-scale foreign ownership on American soil. As we witness this unfolding, it becomes increasingly clear that a balance must be struck between welcoming foreign investment and safeguarding our national interests.