(The Center Square) – Florida Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, the newly appointed Senate Intelligence Committee chairman, is calling on Sunshine State retirement fund managers to purge Chinese companies from the state's $200 billion investment portfolio.
Rubio and U.S. Rep. Michael Waltz, R-St. Augustine Beach, called on Gov. Ron DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis in a letter Tuesday to order the Florida State Board of Administration (SBA) to divest from two specific companies and adopt a policy prohibiting additional investments in Chinese-owned businesses and funds.
SBA manages state investments, including those for the Florida Retirement System (FRS), the nation’s fourth-largest public retirement system.
FRS provides retirement income benefits to 647,942 active members, 4.425 million retirees and 32,670 others, as of June 2019.
As of SBA’s Feb. 29 performance report, FRS had more than $200 billion in assets invested across over 30 funds, including, according to Rubio and Waltz, significant shares in Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co. Ltd. and China Unicom (Hong Kong) Ltd.
“Unfortunately, like many public systems, FRS maintains investments in problematic Chinese enterprises, including firms owned and controlled by the Chinese Government and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that actively participate in human rights abuse and support the People’s Liberation Army (PLA),” they wrote.
In October, the Trump administration blacklisted Hikvision, one of the world’s largest video surveillance systems manufacturers, for providing the technology the CCP has used to repress Muslim Uighurs and Kazakhs in China’s western province of Xinjiang.
FRS was among American public pension programs that had invested in the company, owning 1.8 million shares in June 2019.
“Florida’s hardworking civil servants may not suspect that their publicly administered or managed retirement account invests in firms owned or controlled by the government of China or the CCP,” Rubio and Waltz wrote.
“The reality is,” they continued, “that the FRS holds investments in a variety of such companies,” singling out China Unicom (Hong Kong) Ltd., a subsidiary of state-owned telecommunications operator China United Network Communications (China Unicom), “which contracts with the PLA.”
The letter was copied to Senate President Bill Galvano, incoming Senate President Wilton Simpson, House Speaker Jose Oliva and incoming Speaker Chris Sprowls.
“It is of great concern to us that Florida public employees are often unwittingly investing in funds that hold stock of Chinese companies with direct affiliation to the CCP and the PLA, and we anticipate that it will be of great concern to all Floridians,” Rubio and Waltz wrote.
They called on SBA to adopt an investment policy similar to “laudable” provision prohibiting investments in “companies that do business with Cuba, support the Maduro regime in Venezuela, or boycott our ally Israel.”
Florida officials already are mounting their own campaigns against China.
DeSantis said he 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.
Patronis said the state has identified $2 billion in unclaimed assets in Florida linked to “wholly” owned Chinese companies that it may target as restitution for COVID-19 costs.
Moody has joined 17 other state attorneys general in calling for an investigation into CCP for a “massive conspiracy to cover up and mislead the international community about the severity and highly contagious nature of the novel coronavirus.”
On Monday, Republican U.S. Senate leaders named Rubio acting chairman of the chamber’s intelligence committee, replacing North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, who stepped down after federal agents executed a warrant and seized his cellphone as part of a stock-trading investigation.