'Tough On China' GOP Senate Candidate Sold Off Chinese-Tied Stocks

Montana businessman Tim Sheehy has spent months warning that China is a top threat to national security, and painting his opponent as “weak on China.”

Tim Sheehy, a front-runner for the Republican Senate nomination in Montana, sold off thousands of dollars’ worth of stock in companies with reported ties to the Chinese Communist Party before launching a campaign that, like those of many other Republicans, has been full of “tough on China” rhetoric.

Republicans recruited Sheehy, a millionaire businessman and decorated former Navy SEAL, to run against longtime Democratic incumbent Jon Tester. Sheehy has spent months warning that China is a top threat to U.S. national security, and painting his opponent as a “weak-on-China career politician.”

In one TV campaign ad, Sheehy declared that “politicians like Jon Tester talk tough on China. I’ve actually done something about the threats we face.” In another ad, featuring dramatic music and footage of Chinese President Xi Jinping, Sheehy warns that “China is building a fierce military.”

“As your senator, I will take on foreign corporations and countries like China that rip us off and drive our prices down,” he says in yet another campaign ad.

In TV and radio interviews, Sheehy has taken an increasingly hard-line stance, saying that China is making a “very concerted effort to undermine the United States of America,” and that “we need to be ready for conflict with China.” On the issues page of his campaign website, Sheehy writes: “The politicians in Washington are more concerned with their political careers than securing America’s future. They’ve empowered our adversaries like China, opened our borders, shut down American energy production, and created economic uncertainty.”

Sheehy’s messaging on China is unsurprising. Since launching his Senate bid in June, he has toed the party line on seemingly every major issue — even abandoning previously held views about the need to confront global climate change. But his posture on China is complicated by the fact that, as a wealthy businessman — his net worth is between $74 million and $260 million, according to Business Insider — Sheehy invested in a Chinese technology corporation and several companies with ties to the Chinese Communist Party, including some that the U.S. has identified as threats to national security.

Sheehy’s campaign did not respond to HuffPost’s specific questions about his stock portfolio. Instead, it directed HuffPost to Business Insider’s reporting from November, which touched on two of Sheehy’s Chinese-tied investments, as well as a Daily Caller story about Tester receiving campaign donations tied to two Chinese companies, one of which is state-owned.

“Tim Sheehy is an American war hero who has honorably served our nation and put his life on the line repeatedly as a Navy SEAL,” Sheehy’s spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “He has lived the American Dream, created hundreds of Montana jobs, and his success means he can never be bought. That’s the conservative outsider we need to fight the swamp. What the liberal media wants to gloss over is the fact that Jon Tester got six times richer as a career politician hobnobbing with lobbyists in Washington for nearly two decades ― and that’s what’s wrong with our system. This is why Tim released an ethics plan to raise the bar for accountability in Washington.”

That plan, released three days before Sheehy filed a financial disclosure report for his Senate campaign, includes pledges that, if elected, he’d put all of his stocks and bonds into a blind trust and would “work to ban individual stock, bonds, commodities, and all other securities trading by members of Congress and their spouses.”

Sometime in the last year, Sheehy sold off shares in the Chinese tech giant Tencent, earning between $200 and $1,000 in dividends, according to his Senate campaign financial disclosure, which reports assets in broad ranges rather than specific figures.

Tencent is the world’s largest video game company and owner of WeChat, a messaging and social media app. Seth Kaplan, a lecturer at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, has called the app “a propaganda tool” and a “key part of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) surveillance and censorship apparatus.”

In 2020, then-President Donald Trump signed an executive order to put restrictions on Tencent’s WeChat and on TikTok, another social media platform owned by the Chinese company ByteDance Ltd., citing national security concerns.

“Like TikTok, WeChat automatically captures vast swaths of information from its users. This data collection threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information,” the executive order said. “The United States must take aggressive action against the owner of WeChat to protect our national security.”

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte (R), who has endorsed Sheehy and called him a “close friend,” took a similar action against Chinese-owned social media platforms. In May, he moved to ban the use of TikTok statewide and prohibit the use of WeChat on all state devices and networks, writing in a memo that “foreign adversaries’ collection and use of Montanans’ personal information and data from social media applications infringe on Montanans’ constitutionally guaranteed individual right to privacy.”

In an interview with Fox News this month, Sheehy said China is “actively undermining” security and freedom all over the world, and the U.S. is “doing nothing about it.” Asked in August about Gianforte’s decision to ban TikTok, Sheehy told Fox News host Brian Kilmeade that “it was the right move.”

“It’s about time that we have some aggressive counteraction to very deliberate undermining activities by the Chinese Communist Party,” Sheehy said.

Sheehy also had thousands of dollars invested in businesses — gaming firm Roblox, digital advertising company the Trade Desk, ride-hailing and food delivery company Grab Holdings and chip manufacturer STMicroelectronics — that have partnered or worked closely with Chinese technology giants including Tencent, Huawei, Alibaba and Baidu.

Like Tencent, Huawei ― which is on the State Department’s list of “Communist Chinese military companies” ― has come under heavy scrutiny in the U.S. In 2019, the Trump administration placed the company on a trade blacklist, barring it from purchasing U.S. components without approval. Huawei has been the target of several Department of Justice indictments and mounting U.S. sanctions. Republican lawmakers recently called on the Biden administration to impose even heavier sanctions against the Chinese tech giant after it released a new phone equipped with advanced chip technology that some experts expect could have only been manufactured if the company violated existing sanctions, The Washington Post reported.

Huawei, Tencent and other Chinese tech companies have “a deep record of cooperation and collaboration” with China’s state security bureaucracy, and “no meaningful ability to tell the Chinese Communist Party ‘no’ if officials decide to ask for their assistance,” Christopher Ford, who was assistant secretary of state, said in September 2019.

“The modern ‘China Model’ is built upon a foundation of technology-facilitated surveillance and social control,” Ford said. “These techniques for ruling China have been ― and continue to be ― in critical ways developed, built and maintained on behalf of the Party-State by technology firms such as Huawei, Tencent, ZTE, Alibaba, and Baidu. As these companies export their products and services to the rest of the world, the security and human rights problems associated with this ‘China Model’ are progressively exported with them.”

As of October, when he filed his campaign financial disclosure, Sheehy still owned between $1,001 and $15,000 in stock in Roblox, Trade Desk and Grab, which have all collaborated with Tencent in recent years. In 2022, Motherboard reported on leaked internal documents that detailed Roblox’s plans to comply with strict Chinese censorship laws, including recognizing China’s territorial claim over Taiwan, and its fears that its Chinese partner, Tencent, would hack the platform and copy its game.

In the last year, Sheehy sold off stock in two semiconductor manufacturing companies — Geneva-headquartered STMicroelectronics and California-based Broadcom Ltd. — with current and former business ties to Huawei.

STMicroelectronics has continued to forge new partnerships with Huawei since the U.S. sanctioned the Chinese tech giant. Broadcom suspended sales to Huawei in 2019, which at the time accounted for 4% of the company’s overall sales. Still, 35% of the company’s net revenue in fiscal years 2021 and 2022 came from shipments to China, according to its most recent annual report to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Sheehy earned a combined $1,200 to $3,500 off those disposals.

Tim Sheehy, a former Navy SEAL and the chief executive of an aerial firefighting company based in Montana, announced his Republican campaign for the U.S. Senate in June.
Tim Sheehy, a former Navy SEAL and the chief executive of an aerial firefighting company based in Montana, announced his Republican campaign for the U.S. Senate in June.
Tim Sheehy for Montana

Sheehy also earned up to $5,000 from selling stock in two overseas oil companies, France-based TotalEnergies and London-headquartered TechnipFMC, that have ties to Chinese state-owned energy companies.

TotalEnergies and the China National Offshore Oil Corp. are partners in a $10 billion project to develop oil fields and a pipeline in Uganda and Tanzania, in East Africa. CNOOC awarded TechnipFMC a contract in 2018 to develop subsea infrastructure at an oil field in the South China Sea. In 2019, TechnipFMC was awarded a $7.6 billion contract to help develop a liquified natural gas project in the Russian Arctic, but has since exited the endeavor due to sanctions stemming from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. TotalEnergies, CNOOC and the China National Petroleum Corp. each maintain a 10% stake in that project.

In the waning days of Trump’s presidency, his administration blacklisted CNOOC, accusing it of helping China intimidate neighbors in the disputed South China Sea, Reuters reported at the time. Then-Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross called CNOOC “a bully for the People’s Liberation Army,” the armed forces of the CCP. CNOOC is also on the State Department’s list of Chinese military companies.

Sheehy, who has long pitched his aerial firefighting company, Bridger Aerospace, as a leader in the climate fight, is now railing against what he calls the “climate cult.” He argues that energy and climate policies supported by Democrats are “driving up costs and preventing us from being energy independent,” which he says “serves only to embolden our adversaries.”

Sheehy also maintains significant portfolios at financial institutions with deep ties to China.

He has between $1 million and $5 million in stock in a mutual fund with Credit Suisse, which Fox News reported has a board member with “extensive ties to the Chinese Communist Party.” He has between $250,000 and $500,000 in stock in Pzena Emerging Markets Value Fund, a mutual fund that has approximately 27% of its portfolio invested in China, including in Chinese technology giants such as Alibaba, Chinese state-owned entities and China Overseas Land and Investment Ltd., which the State Department has identified as a subsidiary of a communist Chinese military company.

Sheehy earned between $105,000 and $1,015,000 in dividends from those two funds last year, his financial disclosure shows.

He also has up to $15,000 invested in Roivant Sciences, a biotech company founded by Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy that previously did business with the Chinese. In 2018, Roivant partnered with a Chinese state-owned investment company to form Sinovant Sciences, a pharmaceutical firm “dedicated to bringing innovative medicines to China and advancing Chinese biopharmaceutical innovation abroad,” Newsweek reported.

None of this has kept the Republican hopeful from slamming Tester for accepting campaign donations linked to two Chinese corporations. As the right-wing Daily Caller reported last month, Tester received $3,500 from Syngenta’s political action committee in 2018, the year after the company was bought by Chinese state-owned chemical company ChemChina, as well as $2,500 this year from a lobbyist at Smithfield Foods, which Chinese meat giant WH Group purchased in 2013.

“Two-faced Tester is at it again,” Sheehy wrote in a post on X (formerly Twitter), which included a link to the Daily Caller story. “He likes ‘talking tough’ on China but not as much as he likes taking cash from Chinese companies buying up American farmland!”

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