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DeSantis PAC attack ad hits Nikki Haley on China, as 2024 presidential rivalry grows

The main outside group backing Florida Governor Ron DeSantis' presidential run is airing a TV ad this Sunday targeting former Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley for bringing Chinese businesses into South Carolina when she was governor. The ad, first obtained by CBS News, signals a growing foreign policy feud between the two 2024 presidential candidates.

The $2.5 million ad buy from the super PAC "Never Back Down" will debut during Sunday's CBS "60 Minutes" broadcast, and will air this week on Fox News, CNN and Newsmax in Iowa and New Hampshire media markets. 

It centers around a South Carolina-based production plant for a Chinese fiberglass company built in 2016. The company, China Jushi, invested $300 million to build its first U.S. plant on 200 acres in Columbia, South Carolina, and brought in at least 400 jobs, according to the South Carolina Department of Commerce

The ad refers to China Jushi as a "communist party-owned high tech company" and notes the proximity of its plant to a U.S. Army training center. 

China Jushi is partially owned by a Chinese government enterprise whose leadership has ties to the Chinese Communist Party. Zhang Yuqiang, the CEO of China Jushi in 2016, serves as the committee secretary for the company's communist party committee, according to its website

While the company's materials are often used for cars, lightbulbs and home appliances, one of its listed end-use markets includes "Military, Defense and Security," such as the "Norinco QL550," a Chinese military armored car. 

The DeSantis PAC's ad features a clip of Haley touting that Chinese firms "wanna do business in South Carolina." It also shows a soundbite of her saying China is "really in good faith doing quite a bit. They are a really great friend of ours," though that was pulled from a 2017 CBS News interview where she talked about China signing on to U.S. sanctions on North Korea.

"Nikki Haley: questionable judgment, dangerous on China," the ad's narrator says, showing pictures of Haley and Chinese President Xi Jinping with Chinese symbols in the background that read "Communist Party of China."

In 2016, Haley praised the investment and new jobs into her state as a "huge win" for the state's workforce and appeared via video address at the project's signing ceremony in China. It's not uncommon for governors to tout new business, jobs and investments — the South Carolina Department of Commerce reported about $669 million in investments from Chinese companies in 2015, over twice the $308 million at the start of Haley's tenure. 

But as a presidential candidate, Haley has called China the "number one biggest national security threat." She said she would revoke federal funding for universities that accept money from China, take back U.S. soil China had already purchased, and end "all normal trade relations with" China until the flow of fentanyl in opioids produced from the country ends.

Asked on "Face the Nation" in July if she'd kick out Chinese manufacturers invested in South Carolina, Haley said she wishes "the [prior administrations] had told the governors what was going on. What we need to do is make sure there's no sensitive technology being stolen."

A super PAC supporting Haley, "Stand For America," has made her hawkish stance on China a centerpiece in multiple ads.

A Haley spokesperson said the ad was "more lies and hypocrisy from desperate and losing Ron DeSantis, who aggressively recruited Chinese companies to Florida, including a sanctioned Chinese military manufacturer. Nikki Haley took on the Chinese at the UN and she will as president."

DeSantis hasn't released a foreign policy plan yet, but said he would take a "hard power" approach to the country. 

In May, he signed a ban in Florida on Chinese nationals from purchasing farmland and land near U.S. military bases and a ban of TikTok and WeChat, Chinese-owned social media apps, on government devices. In September, he directed the state's department of education to revoke school choice scholarships from four schools, claiming they had "direct ties to the Chinese Communist Party."

But while he has taken a hard line on China as governor, at least one Chinese business in Florida expanded during his tenure. 

Cirrus Aircraft Ltd., an aircraft manufacturer that added two training centers in central Florida in 2022, is owned by the Aviation Industry Corporation of China, a company sanctioned by the U.S. 

This is Never Back Down's second TV attack ad against Haley. DeSantis has also been slamming Haley over Gaza refugees since Hamas attacked Israel. 

"There are so many of these people who want to be free from this terrorist rule. They want to be free from all of that. And America's always been sympathetic to the fact that you can separate civilians from terrorists," Haley said on CNN of Gaza residents when asked about DeSantis' remark that all Palestinians are "anti-Semitic."

DeSantis characterized Haley's comments as an openness to taking in Gaza refugees, although she did not say that and actually said Middle Eastern countries should give them safe harbor instead. A CNN fact-check found DeSantis' suggestion Haley would allow Gaza refugees in is false.

Haley was questioned by an Iowa voter on Saturday about whether she would be willing to take in refugees from Gaza.

"God bless Ron DeSantis — because he continues to try and bring up this refugee situation," Haley responded. "He has said that I want to take Gazan refugees. I have never said that. And he's got an ad on TV, and I will tell you, from CNN to Newsmax, they have all said that his ad is a lie."

"Why would you be talking about vetting people if you didn't want them to come in?" DeSantis said of Haley during his own campaign stop in Iowa on Saturday. "I think they're trying to kind of cover their tracks and act like we're doing anything other than just quoting her words.

A Haley super PAC aired an ad Thursday in Iowa and New Hampshire in response to DeSantis' attacks, emphasizing her full answer about Gaza refugees.

Haley has gained on DeSantis in fundraising and early-state polling. Her campaign says she entered October with over $9 million cash on hand for the primaries, while DeSantis has only $5 million for use in the primaries.

A CBS News poll from September showed Haley trailing DeSantis by 13 points in Iowa, a state where DeSantis has heavily invested time and resources, but within the margin of error in New Hampshire (DeSantis at 13%, Haley with 11%). According to an aggregate of New Hampshire-specific polling in the last two months by Real Clear Politics, Haley's average (14%) is higher than DeSantis' (10%).

Both are far behind former President Donald Trump in fundraising and polling

Taurean Small contributed reporting.

Correction: A previous version of this story said one Chinese company in Florida, Jinko Solar, received a grant from the city of Jacksonville in AprilWhile a bill proposed by the Jacksonville City Council included grant money for the company, the council voted in June to revoke that legislation after a raid by the Department of Homeland Security.

Jinko Solar did not receive any grant money this year and a company spokesperson said the U.S. government has not told them what the investigation is about and that "since the inception of UFLPA, and through the present day, [U.S. Customs and Border Control] has reviewed and released all of Jinko's solar panels based on documentation provided by the company."

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