Presidential hopeful Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) on Tuesday accused former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) of being “number one” on bringing in the Chinese Communist Party into her state despite DeSantis’s own questionable and more recent record on China.
On the Mark Levin Show, DeSantis contrasted himself with Haley on China, saying:
I think somebody like Nikki Haley — she’s running away from her record as governor because her main task as governor was to recruit investment from the Chinese Communist Party into South Carolina. She was the number one ranked governor at bringing in China into her state when she was governor. And she actually — South Carolina gave away land to the CCP five miles away from a military base for them to do a business venture there. And that was very consistent. She went to China with the World Economic Forum back in the day; she took other junkets there. And this was something — she wrote a love letter to the ambassador when she was governor, saying what a great friend China was. So that’s just, that’s very consistent. That was her worldview. That was what she did. Now, she’s trying to say she’s a completely different person on all that, and she’s trying to run away from it.
However, questions linger about DeSantis’s record on China after a string of reports suggested that he has been less than forthcoming about his own actions in bringing Chinese business into Florida.
According to FactCheck.org, DeSantis is the chairman of the board of directors for Enterprise Florida Inc., a public-private agency aimed at bringing business and jobs to Florida. The agency’s website recently posted a 2019/2020 fiscal year report that said it had focused on “positioning Florida as an ideal business destination for Chinese companies,” according to the website. The story was first reported by the Messenger.
While that report is three years old, the agency’s website reportedly read, “China remains Florida’s most important trading partner and export destination in the region” until it was taken down in recent weeks.
DeSantis claims he abolished the agency, but Factcheck.org claims he actually signed a bill consolidating its responsibilities into the state’s Department of Commerce.
“The consolidation did away with some of the agency’s programs and re-distributed others. So DeSantis’ claim that he ‘abolished’ Enterprise Florida overstates the impact of the bill he signed,” the website reads. DeSantis also did not mention China in a press release on the bill’s signing.
DeSantis also reportedly made an exception for one of his donors in a bill aimed at blocking Chinese nationals from buying property within a certain distance of military bases in the state.
According to Bloomberg News, DeSantis signed a bill in May restricting Chinese nationals and six other “foreign countries of concern” from owning or acquiring agricultural land or real property in Florida, specifically stating they cannot buy property within 20 miles of any military installation or critical infrastructure in the state.
However, according to an August 16 Bloomberg article, DeSantis campaign donor Ken Griffin assembled a network of people to “rework the proposed law,” and the bill draft changed from barring “all Chinese citizens” from buying real estate within that distance to allowing individuals with non-tourist U.S. visas to purchase one residential property that is not on or within five miles of any military installation.
Griffin did so because he reportedly planned to relocate hundreds of his company’s employees to a new global headquarters in Miami, including key executives from China, Bloomberg News said.
Fellow Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy referenced the story during the third presidential debate, at which DeSantis said, “That’s not true,” but did not elaborate.
A third report by the New York Post said that DeSantis allowed a Chinese firm called Cirrus Aircraft — which produces equipment for China’s military — to expand its presence in central Florida, including at an airport fewer than 15 miles away from a U.S. military training site. Cirrus’s parent company, AVIC, was reportedly sanctioned by the U.S. in 2020 as a possible national security threat.
A fourth report by the South Florida Sun Sentinel said that while DeSantis banned Florida from doing business with China, his administration leases a plane owned by a Chinese firm for $2 million a year through another company that does business with the Chinese firm.
The DeSantis campaign has defended the governor’s record on China, saying in a statement:
DeSantis has a strong record of cracking down on the CCP in the state of Florida.
He successfully championed legislation this year that prevents CCP affiliates from buying farmland or land near military bases in Florida, prevents sensitive data from being stored on servers with CCP ownership or affiliation, safeguards educational institutions from Chinese influence, and blocks access to CCP-affiliated apps like TikTok on government devices.
He also took strong executive action last year to make procurement rules for state equipment that safeguard against Chinese exploitation and prohibit state entities from contracting with companies affiliated with the CCP.
“In 2021, he led the charge to legislatively kill CCP-funded Confucius Institutes at Florida’s universities,” the campaign concluded.