US Bans Chinese Crypto-Miner Near Nuclear Base Over Security Risks

On May 14, 2024, the United States intensified its scrutiny of foreign investments near critical national infrastructure by mandating a Chinese-owned cryptocurrency mining company, MineOne Partners, to divest its property situated alarmingly close to a nuclear missile base in Wyoming. This decision, as reported by major news outlets including the BBC, underscores the increasing tension between economic globalization and national security.

The property in question, located less than a mile from the Francis E. Warren Air Force Base, which houses Minuteman III nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles, has become the focal point of this national security debate. The White House, in a press statement, highlighted the proximity of this foreign-owned real estate to the strategic missile base and the potential for the specialized and foreign-sourced equipment used there to facilitate surveillance and espionage activities.

MineOne Partners, reportedly majority-owned by Chinese citizens, acquired the land in 2022 and subsequently installed cryptocurrency mining equipment. This operation was not initially disclosed to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a critical oversight given the committee’s role in examining transactions that could pose national security threats. The transaction came to light following a tip-off from a public member, prompting a swift investigation by CFIUS, which confirmed the security risks involved.

The narrative of foreign entities, particularly those with links to adversarial nations, owning property near sensitive U.S. military facilities is not new. Over the years, there has been a growing unease among U.S. lawmakers about such investments, which has occasionally led to legislative proposals aimed at tightening controls on foreign real estate ownership in these critical areas.

President Joe Biden’s directive for MineOne to divest its property underscores the broader context of U.S.-China relations, which are currently characterized by strategic competition and mutual suspicion. This incident is particularly poignant given its timing, just a day before the administration announced significant tariff hikes on various Chinese imports, including advanced technologies like electric vehicles.

From an economic perspective, the intersection of cryptocurrency mining and national security may seem tenuous, but the modern digital economy increasingly blurs these lines. Cryptocurrency mining, by its nature, requires substantial computational power and, consequently, significant energy consumption, which can draw scrutiny when located near critical infrastructure due to potential dual-use capabilities for surveillance.

This scenario also illustrates the essential role of CFIUS and similar regulatory bodies worldwide in acting as gatekeepers to ensure that foreign investments do not compromise national security. The effectiveness of such bodies in preempting potential threats is critical, especially in an era where technological advancements make traditional forms of espionage and surveillance obsolete.

The broader implications of this incident are significant, highlighting the need for vigilance and proactive measures in protecting national security in the age of global digital economies. It also underscores the delicate balance that governments must maintain in encouraging foreign investment while safeguarding critical national assets against potential foreign threats. The ongoing developments in U.S. policy towards foreign investments near military bases and critical infrastructure will likely serve as a benchmark for other nations grappling with similar issues in an interconnected world.

As the global landscape of international trade and security continues to evolve, the tension between openness and control, globalization and nationalism, will increasingly come to the fore, challenging policymakers to navigate these complex waters without stifling economic innovation or compromising national security.

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