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Most Americans agree that China is the single greatest external threat to the United States. So, they would be shocked and angered to learn that their retirement savings are funding Chinese companies.
Instead of helping restore American industry, retirees are being forced to boost the Communist Party’s buildup of its People’s Liberation Army.
U.S. retirees shouldn’t be unwittingly subsidizing our greatest adversary’s industries, which is why I introduced the Protecting Americans’ Retirement Savings Act (PARSA). PARSA blocks private pension plans regulated by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) from making new investments in companies controlled by or based in our foreign adversaries – China, Russia, Iran and North Korea. In addition, it requires investors to disclose and explain their existing stakes in those nations and sanctioned entities.
A few years ago, I, and like-minded policymakers, voiced strong concerns about proposals to steer investments in the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) – the pension plan for service members and federal workers – to Chinese assets.
In May 2020, the Trump administration prevented the TSP’s I Fund from moving to an index invested in Russian and Chinese firms. When Putin invaded Ukraine less than two years later, Russia’s stock market tanked. The Trump administration’s bold action saved federal retirees from a massive hit to their savings, but today, ERISA plans’ Chinese holdings pose a similar, unaddressed risk to private sector retirees.
From a purely financial standpoint, investing in a Chinese company creates unique risk, distinct from investing in an American one. For one, thanks to Chairman Xi Jinping’s crackdown, Chinese public accounting companies can no longer guarantee independence from the communist government.
Just this spring, Beijing urged state firms to stop using the “big four” auditors, going so far as to pressure staff at Enrst & Young China to wear communist party badges. Absent auditor independence, investments in China are inherently riskier; you can’t be certain about the financial health of a Chinese firm.
ERISA plans aren’t managed by retirees themselves, but by a designated fiduciary, which is oftentimes an investment manager. Fiduciaries must ensure their investments abide by U.S. securities law, including our transparency standards. It’s extremely difficult to verify that firms in hostile states – China especially – are complying with U.S. laws. Investors that send hardworking Americans’ pension savings in China are heaping risk on retirees.
As a member of the Armed Services Committee and the China Select Committee, I’m primarily concerned by the massive national security threat arising from these investments. Prospective U.S. investors should remember that the Communist Party retains control of Chinese companies and could access their financial information at will.
Most importantly, investments in China are investments in the Communist Party and its expansionist ambitions. These firms are driving the Uyghur genocide and the People’s Liberation Army buildup threatening the United States.
ERISA plans, the main federal retirement savings plans in private industry, are used by tens of millions of Americans. Ensuring their safety is crucial – it’s why ERISA exists in the first place.
Since President Trump’s TSP executive order, several states, including my home state of Indiana, have pulled pension funds out of China. Private sectors retirees deserve the same protections as federal and state employees.
Just as our nation faces a serious foreign threat, private retirees face serious financial risk. Lawmakers can help resolve both now.
It’s not enough to wait for the Biden administration to do something about China. Congress must pass the PARSA Act to protect Americans’ retirement savings while depriving our greatest adversary of needed capital.