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Arizona Senate committee: No Chinese Communist property purchases


PHOENIX — Republican lawmakers voted Wednesday to send a message to Chinese communists: Your money is not welcome here — at least not for buying land.

On a party-line vote, the Senate Commerce Committee approved legislation making it illegal for the Chinese Communist Party to own property in Arizona. That part of SB 1342 appeared to get no opposition.

But the proposal by Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, seeks to extend the same prohibition to any individual who is a member of the Chinese Communist Party. And that drew questions about who, in fact, is a member of the party and whether such restrictions are appropriate against individuals based solely on that status.

Rogers provided the committee with no specifics about what is the problem here — or even if there is one. Nor did she know whether members of the CCP own land in Arizona.

Instead, she simply read from information that was provided after U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, introduced similar federal legislation last year.

In a press release, Roy said that a Chinese-based energy company bought more than 130,000 of land near Laughlin Air Force Base in his home state “and is now attempting to build a wind farm to access the U.S. power grid.”

At Wednesday’s hearing, the measure got a boost from P.M. Azinga, a Mesa resident who said she taught in China for five years.

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fight,” she said, quoting from the ancient Chinese military treatise by Sun Tzu.

That rang a bell with Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, who is retired military and called himself “a student of Sun Tzu.” What that philosophy involves, Borrelli said, is “encroachment, either through purchase, or their grab a little, nudge a little, grab a little, nudge a little.”

But who, then, is a member of the Chinese Communist Party?

Sen. David Livingston, R-Peoria, compared it to being an active duty member of the military who is deployed and representing the country.

“It’s so different from how we think,” he said. “Trust me: This is not the Republican Party or the Boy Scouts.”

And Sen. Tyler Pace, R-Mesa, said the State Department has a list of who belongs.

That still left Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, a bit uneasy with the wording. She questioned the wisdom of restricting individual land ownership based on that party affiliation.

Pace also questioned what, if anything, might attract Chinese interest.

“Other than Sedona, I don't know what else they would want to buy,” he said.

On a national level, there has been discussion about Chinese interests controlling farmland, with the most recent data putting that at about 190,000 acres according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, though complex company ownership structures may make that figure unreliable.

Still, that is far less than many other countries. USDA data from 2019 shows more than 7.4 million acres of U.S. land owned by Canadian countries, 4.5 million by firms from the Netherlands and nearly 2.5 million by Italian interests.

Borrelli suggested that the measure, approved by the panel on a 5-3 vote, still needs work before it goes to the full Senate.

One issue, he said, would be banning ownership only of “strategic” properties. And Rogers said she’s willing to narrow the scope.

But here, too, the definition of what that includes could prove difficult, with even former Vice President Mike Pence saying in a speech last year that should include farmland.

One thing Rogers did make clear: Her only concern is Communists — as in members of the CCP — from China. Those from other countries would remain free to spend their money and buy up what they want.

Rogers also made no mention of home-grown communists. And there appear to be at least a couple of dozen.

The official reports of the secretary of state’s details political affiliation only for those parties actually recognized, usually by virtue of their candidates getting enough votes in the most recent election.

But Arizonans remain free to self-identify on those voter registration forms.

A total of 30 people listed their affiliation as “Communist,” with another dozen listing their affiliation as “Communist Party USA” and six just as “Communist Party.”

And there were a handful of others with their own take, including those registered as “Native Communist Party,'” the “Communist Party of Afghanistan” and even one “Anarco-Communist.”