Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is on a roll, having signed bans on vaccine passports, critical race theory, and biological males in girls’ sports.
Now, the conservative populist champion is taking on China, which has come under intense scrutiny for covering up its role in unleashing the COVID pandemic on the world. He made his move Monday with a pair of laws to counteract foreign influence and intellectual property theft.
DeSantis targets Chinese influence
The legislation targets seven countries of “concern” — China, Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, Cuba, Russia and Syria — but the elephant in the room is clearly China.
America’s top competitor has long come under fire for intellectual property theft and surveillance, and lately, conspiring to conceal what many suspect was a catastrophic leak at a Wuhan lab researching coronaviruses. More broadly, China’s influence on corporate America has many concerned.
“These bills I’m signing into law today, foreign adversaries will not have access to or schools, government and companies like they have in the past,” DeSantis said, according to local NBC station WPTV.
The governor signed HB 7017, which seeks to prevent Chinese spies from infiltrating public universities by requiring the disclosure of foreign grants and gifts of more than $50,000 and enhanced screening of foreign researchers. A second bill, HB 1523, stiffens penalties for intellectual property theft.
“Anyone who willfully, without authorization, steals or attempts to steal a trade secret, and use it for their own benefit will now face a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison,” the governor said.
“We have to start fighting back”
It’s a problem that hits home in Florida, where an ex-University of Florida associate professor was indicted in February for defrauding the U.S. government of research funding, although the person has fled to China.
“I think if you look right now, there is no single entity that exercises a more pervasive nefarious influence across a wide range of American industries and institutions than the Communist Party of China,” DeSantis said.
Donald Trump has called for China to pay heavy reparations for its actions relating to the COVID pandemic, and DeSantis, seen as a possible successor to Trump in 2024, also ripped China over the lab leak.
“They tried to cover it up,” he said.
“All we are doing today is saying enough is enough,” DeSantis said. “We have to start fighting back. Florida is doing that.”