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PolitiFact did not find any government reports or news stories that show Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recruited Chinese companies to the state in the last six months. Other fact-checkers reported similar findings.
Experts said that state governments typically have little to no involvement in whether a company expands, as those permits are obtained locally.
Ties to China are front and center in the rivalry between Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, as the two vie to challenge former President Donald Trump for the Republican presidential nomination.
DeSantis has attacked Haley for courting Chinese companies during her 2011 to 2017 tenure as governor. That includes the 2016 recruitment of a Chinese fiberglass company with connections to the Chinese Communist Party.
Haley argued that DeSantis recently did something similar.
"Every governor in the country has tried to recruit Chinese businesses over the last how many years because everybody thought, ‘Oh if we’re nice to China they’ll want to be like us,’" Haley said Nov. 10 on "Fox and Friends." "And, you know, Ron has spent millions of dollars against me on this when the reality is, yes, 10 years ago I brought a fiberglass company, but he did something six months ago. So what’s his story?"
Haley provided no evidence showing DeSantis was involved in a deal as recent as six months ago.
When contacted for comment, her campaign cited two Chinese-connected companies with operations in Florida: JinkoSolar, a solar panel manufacturer headquartered in Shanghai; and Cirrus Aircraft, which manufactures personal aircraft and is a subsidiary of China’s state-owned Aviation Industry Corp. Her campaign told PolitiFact that DeSantis didn’t stop the companies from moving to or expanding in the state.
The former came to the state before he was governor, while the latter company did so under an anonymous name, without state incentive dollars.
In an email to PolitiFact, Haley’s campaign argued that DeSantis allowed "a sanctioned Chinese-owned aircraft company to expand in Florida one year ago," a reference to Cirrus, and "a raided Chinese company to expand in Florida six months ago," referring to JinkoSolar.
Aviation Industry Corp., not the Cirrus subsidiary, was flagged for sanctions by the U.S. government in 2020 because of its connections to China’s military. Cirrus hasn’t been sanctioned or accused of wrongdoing.
JinkoSolar has operated in Florida since 2018, before DeSantis’ tenure as governor. It already had plans to expand when federal officials issued a search warrant at its facility last spring.
JinkoSolar opened a Jacksonville factory in 2018 under former Gov. Rick Scott. The city offered JinkoSolar $3.4 million in incentives, with the state adding $800,000 more.
JinkoSolar was poised to receive a $2.3 million grant from the city to expand the company’s operation in 2023. But the city withdrew its proposed funding in June following reports that federal officials served a search warrant at the facility in connection with a Department of Homeland Security investigation. The company said it still plans to expand.
Officials have provided few details about the investigation, but The New York Times reported the probe involves whether the company misrepresented the source of certain imports from China and incorrectly classified the products, resulting in an incorrect duty rate.
State governments typically lack the authority to bar an established business from making operational decisions, unless those businesses are breaking the law. JinkoSolar hasn’t been charged with a crime.
Companies usually need to obtain permits for expansions. And although there could be some behind-the-scenes involvement by state officials to approve or deny requests, local officials handle those decisions.
"The city of Jacksonville or Duval County, they would have approved the current zoning or a rezoning based on the facts of the land," said Darren Stowe, a former principal planner in Florida with Environmental Consulting & Technology, an environmental and sustainability consulting company. "It’s all on the local level, I can’t see how a state could preempt that."
A spokesperson for the city of Jacksonville told PolitiFact that it didn’t coordinate with the state on development of the incentive package or retracting it.
In 2022, Cirrus Aircraft opened two Florida locations, at the Kissimmee Gateway Airport and the Orlando Executive Airport. The latter is about 12 miles from the Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division.
Never Back Down, the super PAC supporting DeSantis, told PolitiFact that Cirrus came to Florida "of their own accord" under an anonymous project name.
Aviation Industry Corp., the Chinese state-owned aerospace and defense company that owns Cirrus, manufactures planes, fighter jets and helicopters for the Chinese military. Cirrus, which makes personal aircraft, was founded in Baraboo, Wis., in 1994 before being acquired in 2011 by Aviation Industry Corp.
PolitiFact did not find any government reports or news stories that mentioned DeSantis’ involvement, or said that he offered the company financial assistance or state incentives. Other fact-checkers reported similar findings.
Local news reports noted that no city or state economic incentive money was issued in the Kissimmee airport project.
Haley’s campaign told us that DeSantis’ actively recruited Chinese investment through Enterprise Florida, the state’s former business-recruitment agency.
DeSantis once chaired the board of Enterprise Florida, but this year he signed legislation to liquidate it and move its contracts and data to the new Commerce Department. The law set up a new organization, Select Florida, to recruit international business.
Enterprise Florida, under DeSantis’ leadership, touted Florida as "an ideal business destination for Chinese companies" in a 2019-20 annual report. The report resurfaced during DeSantis’ presidential run, and the state removed it.
When asked about the removal, DeSantis press secretary Jeremy Redfern said an Oct. 31 Washington Examiner story, which discussed some of Florida’s Chinese contracts, revealed a "large amount of inaccurate and outdated information on a website for an organization that the governor abolished, so it was updated accordingly."
DeSantis’ campaign and governor’s office pointed to actions he took as governor to limit Chinese influence in Florida. Redfern told PolitiFact that the governor’s office realized in 2020 the extent of Enterprise Florida’s engagement with Chinese trade and compelled the agency to sever ties.
Haley said that "every governor in the country has tried to recruit Chinese businesses … The reality is, yes, 10 years ago I brought a fiberglass company, but (DeSantis) did something six months ago."
PolitiFact searched for state incentive deals, news reports and other evidence that would support Haley’s claim and found little to back it.
Haley’s team cited two Chinese companies operating in Florida. JinkoSolar entered the Florida market in 2018, before DeSantis took office. Cirrus Aircraft expanded in the state in 2022 under an anonymous name. We found no evidence that DeSantis lined up state incentives to aid the companies’ projects.
We rate Haley’s claim False.
PolitiFact, Fact-checking the third GOP presidential debate in Miami, Nov. 8, 2023
Nikki Haley on Fox News, Nov. 10, 2023
The Washington Post, Nikki Haley misleads town hall audience on Chinese land acquisitions, Oct. 18, 2023
The Washington Post, DeSantis group’s ad attacks Haley with facts but offers false conclusions, Nov. 4, 2023
FactCheck.org, FactChecking the Third GOP Primary Debate, Nov. 9, 2023
Bloomberg News, Sanctioned Chinese Military Giant’s US Business Keeps Growing, July 16, 2023
Jacksonville.com, What you should know about JinkoSolar, which makes solar panels in Jacksonville, May 11, 2023
Jacksonville Daily Record, City Council pulls incentives bill for JinkoSolar expansion, June 13, 2023
The New York Times, Solar Supply Chain Grows More Opaque Amid Human Rights Concerns, Aug. 1, 2023
Cirrus Aircraft, Cirrus Aircraft Announces Cirrus Orlando with Two New Locations in Central Florida, Oct. 20, 2022
Orlando Business Journal, Anonymous company seeks ground lease at Kissimmee Airport, Sept. 14, 2021
Osceola News-Gazette, Cirrus Aircraft coming to Gateway Airport, Oct. 5, 2021
The Messenger, Florida Agency Scrubs China Mentions Amid DeSantis-Haley Feud. ‘Coverup’ or Coincidence?, Nov. 2, 2023
Washington Examiner, DeSantis's China record scrutinized as he hits Haley for hers, Oct. 31, 2023
FL Governor’s Office, Governor DeSantis Signs Legislation to Streamline Economic Development in Florida, May 31, 2023
Florida Trend, Enterprise Florida Exiting, Sept. 28, 2023
Enterprise Florida archive, FY 2019 Annual Report, Accessed Nov. 7, 2023
Wayback Machine, Promoting Florida's Commercial Ties with Asia-Pacific, Accessed Nov. 14, 2023
Wayback Machine, Enterprise Florida 2021/2022 Annual Report, Accessed Nov. 14, 2023
Email interview, Jeremy Redfern press secretary for DeSantis governor’s office, Nov. 7-8, 2023
Email interview, Bryan Griffin spokesperson for DeSantis presidential campaign, Nov. 7, 2023
Email interview, Matt Wolking spokesperson for Never Back Down, Nov. 10 2023
Email interview, Phillip Perry chief communications officer for the city of Jacksonville,
Phone interview, Darren Stowe, former principal planner for Environmental Consulting & Technology, Nov. 16, 2023
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