By John Haughey | The Center Square
Gov. Ron DeSantis will call on lawmakers in 2021 to divest state investments in Chinese-owned companies and “hold China accountable” for withholding information about the COVID-19 outbreak until it was spreading across the globe.
DeSantis told reporters he will push Florida to “put our flag into the ground” and incentivize companies now operating in China, especially pharmaceutical and medical equipment manufacturers, to come to the Sunshine State.
“If you have life-saving equipment that is being manufactured, do not manufacture it in China anymore. We need to bring this stuff back to the United States, and Florida would be a great place to do it,” he said. “If you want a good, business friendly environment, come talk to me. We can work something out.”
DeSantis said Florida is likely to file its own lawsuit against the Chinese Communist Party seeking compensation for the economic damage caused by the pandemic shutdown or sign onto one filed this week by Missouri and Mississippi.
“I want to see if Florida can be involved in that,” he said.
DeSantis’ comments came as President Donald Trump and Congress are considering whether, and how, the U.S, can penalize China for failing to alert the world to the Wuhan COVID-19 outbreak.
In a letter sent Wednesday to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis asked for “technical assistance” from the U.S. State Department in providing a list of Chinese-based or Chinese-bought companies and their subsidiaries that operate in Florida.
Patronis said the state’s Department of Financial Services' Division of Unclaimed Property has $2 billion in unclaimed assets, some of which could belong to Chinese companies or the Chinese Communist Party.
“Clearly, if another nation attacked our country, and inflicted the kind of economic harm that is being brought to the American economy, we would demand restitution,” Patronis wrote. “I am of the opinion that China has a debt to pay to our country, and the state of Florida, for their negligence and deceptive practices.”
The Department of Financial Services could company turn names over to the Board of Administration, which manages state investments, including those made on behalf of the Florida Retirement System (FRS), the nation’s fourth-largest public pension fund.
According to the state’s Department of Management Services (DMS), as of June 2019, FRS provided retirement income benefits to 647,942 active members, 4.425 million retirees and 32,670 others.
In October, the Trump administration blacklisted Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co., one of the world’s largest video surveillance systems manufacturers, for providing the technology the Chinese Communist Party has used to repress western China’s Muslim population.
FRS was among American public pension programs that had invested in the company, owning 1.8 million shares in June 2019.
Divesting in Chinese companies is not, necessarily, the same as disentangling economically with China.
Enterprise Florida has operated offices in Hong Kong and Shanghai since 2014. The agency’s 2018 International Business Highlights report ranks China as Florida’s No. 1 import market and No. 3 merchandise trading partner. China is the Port of Miami’s top customer.
More than 200,000 Chinese tourists visit Florida annually, according to Enterprise Florida.
DeSantis touted his long opposition to the Chinese Communist Party and China’s trade practices, noting DC Think, a Beijing-based think tank administered by Tsinghua University, in a June 2019 U.S. Governors Report, warned Florida’s governor was not “friendly” to China’s interests.
“Where do you think I was” ranked he asked before answering his own question: “Hard-line against China.”