DeSantis calls on Florida lawmakers to ‘divest’ in Chinese-owned companies

Gov. Ron DeSantis will call on lawmakers in 2021 to divest state investments in Chinese-owned companies and “hold China accountable” for its role in spreading the coronavirus.

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 return to Florida.

“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 to penalize China for its role in the virus 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 to provide a list of Chinese-based or Chinese-bought companies and their subsidiaries currently operating 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 mandate that companies turn over names 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, 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 that has helped China advance its mass surveillance operation. American companies have long invested pension money in this company, including those in Florida.

According to Desantis, DC Think, a Beijing-based think tank administered by Tsinghua University, in a June 2019 U.S. Governors Report, warned that 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.”

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