Republican presidential hopeful, Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, faced fresh scrutiny this week as a report shed light on his alleged involvement in granting $90,000 in tax relief to a subsidiary of a Chinese solar panel manufacturer headquartered in Jacksonville. According to the Washington Examiner, the relief was provided in 2020 through DeSantis’s urban job tax credit program. Notably, the company, JinkoSolar, would later be subject to a Department of Homeland Security raid in 2022 for alleged violations of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act.
In response to the report, a spokesperson for DeSantis pointed to the previous administration led by now-Senator Rick Scott, suggesting the incentive was a continuation of policies initiated during Scott’s tenure. Rose Hebert, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Commerce, did not deny the claim but argued that the company had been recruited by the Scott administration.
Hebert stated, “As we have made explicitly clear, this company was recruited by the [Rick] Scott Administration and all incentives they received were a result of that recruitment.” She added that a subsequent bill signed by DeSantis in 2023 barred Chinese companies from receiving state incentives in Florida.
A spokesperson for Rick Scott acknowledged that circumstances had changed since the deal with JinkoSolar in 2018, emphasizing the revelations about the Chinese Communist Party’s actions. The report raises questions about DeSantis’s claims of being tough on China during his gubernatorial campaign.
According to the Washington Examiner, JinkoSolar received $125,000 in tax refunds in 2019-20 and $237,500 in 2021-22, as indicated by Florida’s now-defunct state public-private economic development partnership, Enterprise Florida. The partnership was dissolved in June, coincidentally after DeSantis announced his presidential candidacy.
The report also revealed that the city of Jacksonville had initially approved a proposal for JinkoSolar to receive $2.3 million in property tax rebates over a decade, but this was withdrawn following the DHS raid. JinkoSolar, still planning to extend its Florida plant, stated that Customs and Border Protection had reviewed and released all of its solar panels based on documentation provided by the company.
The development prompted a response from the presidential campaign of former President Donald Trump, with spokesperson Steven Cheung characterizing DeSantis as having ties to China. Donald Trump Jr. also weighed in on the report, posting on X, “Yikes!”
Yikes!— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) December 1, 2023
Washington Examiner: DeSantis gave federally investigated Chinese company tax credit despite earlier denialshttps://t.co/5zxOAc9qjF
Other contenders for the Republican presidential nomination, particularly former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, have also capitalized on reports highlighting Governor Ron DeSantis’s connections with Chinese businesses in Florida.
According to a Bloomberg News report in August, DeSantis allegedly facilitated a loophole in a May bill that prohibited Chinese nationals from owning or acquiring agricultural land or real estate in Florida. This move was purportedly influenced by lobbying from major donor Ken Griffin.
In another report by the New York Post in November, it was claimed that DeSantis allowed the expansion of a Chinese firm named Cirrus Aircraft in central Florida. This company reportedly manufactures equipment for China’s military, and its parent company, AVIC, was reportedly sanctioned by the U.S. in 2020 due to potential national security concerns. The expansion included a location near a U.S. military training site.
A separate report by the South Florida Sun Sentinel in November alleged that despite DeSantis banning Florida from engaging in business with China, his administration leased a plane owned by a Chinese firm for $2 million annually through another company that conducts business with the Chinese firm.
Most recently, the Miami Herald reported last week that DeSantis and affiliated committees accepted $340,000 in donations from the CEO of a Tampa refrigerant company with backing from China.
In response to these allegations, the DeSantis campaign issued a statement to the Washington Examiner, directing attention to Haley’s record on China. The campaign argued that DeSantis, in contrast to Haley, has actively recognized the threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party. The statement emphasized DeSantis’s efforts during his governorship to sever pre-existing state ties with China and establish safeguards against potential future Chinese encroachments. The campaign press secretary, Bryan Griffin, stated, “Nikki Haley spent her governorship courting Chinese businesses to South Carolina, calling them a friend, and failing to pursue corrective efforts to safeguard her state from the threat of the CCP.”