Ron DeSantis Unveils Sweeping Statewide Effort to Address Chinese, Foreign Influence

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a news conference at Universal Studios Wednesday, June 3, 2020, in Orlando, Fla. The Universal Studios theme park reopened today for season pass holders and will open to the general public on Friday. Bars and theme parks will be part of Florida's Phase 2 …
AP Photo/John Raoux

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) on Monday unveiled a sweeping effort to address Chinese influence in the state, calling the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) attempts to influence domestic and international affairs “one of the most pervasive threats to American Security and property.”

“For the last decade, the Communist Party of China has been meticulous and deliberate in their infiltration across the globe,” DeSantis said, explaining the CCP’s long-term goals and interests “are antithetical to the basic tenets of the American Republic.”

The CCP, DeSantis said, has made a mission of their global expansion of power to steal intellectual property from businesses, government, and academic institutions “all to further fuel their global objectives.” He then stressed the importance of providing strategic safeguards addressing concerns of the CCP, and other foreign powers, influencing the government, as well as academia and the economy.

That starts with what DeSantis described as one of the CCP’s “primary targets”: The education system. He briefly touched on the Chinese theft of American research, adding that the U.S. must “eliminate any tolerance of clandestine foreign influence in our schools.”

State agencies, state universities, public schools, and local governments must “never use tax dollars to establish language and culture programs with foreign governments that place the interest of those governments ahead of our own interests,” DeSantis said, mentioning CCP-funded Confucius institutes, specifically.

“With our proposal today, we will ensure that no such organization is able to gain a foothold in a Florida institution of higher education,” DeSantis said.

The proposal will require public institutions of higher education to report any gift of $50,000 more from a foreign government or a foreign person. It will also require “strict vetting” and review processes of foreign applications for important research positions.

Institutions that choose to conceal information, DeSantis warned, will pay 105 percent of the amount and give it to the state of Florida. The attorney general will take action against non-compliant institutions.

It will also require state agencies to report any gift over $50,000 and require anyone seeking a grant or contract from the state for more than $100,000 to disclose any “contact with, donation from, or grant received” from seven countries of concern. Those include China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Syria, and Venezuela.

“The private entities seeking public grants or contacts in excess of $100,000 will also be required to report any contact with, donation from, or grant received from persons or entities substantially influenced by such government, having a value in excess of $50,000 from the previous five years,” DeSantis said.

“Not only is this an issue of establishing barriers to foreign influence. It’s also a measure of sound fiscal stewardship to ensure tax dollars don’t end up in the hands of the likes of Maduro, Kim Jong-un, or the Chinese Communist Party,” he added.

Further, DeSantis said the actions will “bolster law enforcement’s ability to go after corporate spies and beef penalties for any corporate espionage that benefits a foreign government.” He plans to modernize Florida law to include theft of cloud technology and “create a third-degree felony for a person who commits theft of a trade secret and a second-degree felony [for] trafficking trade secrets.”

Someone who does it for a foreign agent or entity will have their offense reclassified one degree higher “resulting in longer prison sentences,” DeSantis added.

The governor said laws will protect Floridians from foreign influence and corporate espionage, emphasizing the threat the CCP poses and deeming the proposals a “great first step.” DeSantis said he looks forward to working with the legislature to “get this on the books.”

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