A bill in the Indiana Legislature would prohibit the Hoosier State from investing in any Chinese-based companies and pull any holdings the Indiana Public Retirement System has in the world’s second-largest economy.
The bill, proposed by state Rep. Chris Judy, a Republican, would also bar INPRS from investing in any company in which China has any direct or indirect economic interest, or has a resident of China (even if they’re a U.S. citizen) on their board of directors.
According to The Northwest Indiana Times, Judy believes China “has both the motivation and capability to interfere with and impose economic or military harm on the United States and its people.”
“Therefore, any ‘economic support for and investment in Chinese entities unnecessarily increase the risk to the security and welfare of the United States and the people of Indiana,’” the paper reported.
Judy also reportedly cited the mistreatment of Uighur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang Province and civil rights issues in Hong Kong as reasons for drafting the bill, which passed the legislature’s Government and Regulatory Reform Committee on Feb. 11 and is now in front of the Ways and Means Committee.
The bill is a form of pension fund activism, in which state retirement systems and pension boards use their investments to try to bring significant change. Another example of pension fund activism is the decision of New York State, New York City, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. to pull investments from fossil fuel companies in favor of low-carbon companies.
The instincts behind pension fund activism may or may not come from a reasonable social, environmental, or humanitarian perspective. However, it is crucial to consider that state pension fund managers have a duty to represent the fiduciary interests of public employees’ assets—not a set of social or political interests.
Calls for U.S. state pension funds to stop investing in Chinese companies purely because of geopolitical tensions could lead to those pension funds breaking their fiduciary duty to public employees.
Political concerns about Chinese firms posing a national security threat could reasonably lead a pension fund to not invest or divest on the grounds that there’s too much uncertainty related to forecasted investment returns. State pension boards could withdraw private equity funds from Chinese companies if a forecast about Sino-U.S. relations getting more fraught turns out to be correct. But those decisions should be made from a financial standpoint and not a political one. And if under those terms Indiana wants to pull its investments from Chinese companies, it needs to find an investment strategy with equal risk and equal prospective returns.