Ron DeSantis Shows a New Way to Fight Foreign Influence

With the rise of China, the US has a unique challenge in front of it. China is emerging as a second pole that wants to assert itself in its immediate sphere of influence, which in turn, will allow it to project power abroad should it end up dominating its own backyard.

Recognizing that it’s outmatched significantly in terms of conventional military forces at the moment, China has used trade and immigration to enrich itself, while also slowly chipping away at the US through corporate espionage and other under-handed ways of subversion. One of China’s most notable ways of expanding its influence is through its establishment of Confucius Institutes — educational partnerships between colleges and universities in China and colleges and universities in countries like the US. 

These institutions have elicited concerns from lawmakers for potentially being hubs of espionage and also working as vehicles for propaganda that attempts to whitewash the Chinese Communist Party’s image abroad.

In early June, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis made waves by signing two bills aimed at combating foreign influence and corporate espionage in Florida.

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While signing the bill, DeSantis declared that the Communist Party of China has played a significant role in cases of trademark infringement and perpetuating misinformation. DeSantis also alluded to China’s duplicity with regards to the lab leak of COVID-19 in Wuhan.

“With the coronavirus pandemic and the cover-up of the origins of COVID-19, it’s pretty clear that this was a virus that almost assuredly leaked out of this lab in WuHan. This is a lab where these scientists were working very closely with the Communist Party of China, as well as the Chinese military. When you had these folks fall ill who are working in that lab last fall, the Communist Party of China decided to cover it up,” he declared.

The Florida governor insisted that China be held accountable for the leak. “So I think what this exposed is, you do have relationships between a lot of these institutions in China, particularly in the research realm, and bureaucrats in the United States,” he proclaimed.

State Representative Chris Sprowls said the new laws will defend businesses and education research from Chinese agents engaging in corporate espionage. 

“Whether it’s medical, bio medical technology, cancer research, defense materials, all of these things are vulnerable from foreign influence and espionage by the Chinese government,” he declared.

The state representative referenced a specific case in Florida’s education system involving the theft of trade secrets.

“In Orlando, there was a researcher working on autonomous submarine parts who had an undisclosed relationship and when he was confronted he fled from his wife and family back to China. Subsequently, his research assistant was indicted for exporting autonomous submarine part back to China,” stated Sprowls.

“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. Academia in the United States is permeated with influence. You have researchers getting indicted. This is very common to see researchers and major institutions, including in Florida, and also around the country, getting indicted for being in cahoots with the Chinese government,” declared DeSantis.

“In Florida, we’re gonna take a stand. These bills I’m signing into law today, foreign adversaries will not have access to our schools, government, and companies like they have in the past, not the Communist Party of China, not Russia, not Cuba, not North Korea, not Iran, not Syria, not Venezuela. In fact, the first bill that I signed today safeguards our public institutions from undue Florent foreign influence,” the Florida governor stated.

“Beyond prohibiting direct deals with these adversarial governments, the bill also makes sure we don’t make deals with private companies that are closely tied to these foreign adversaries. The bill also makes sure all nation-states, corporations, organizations, and individuals seeking to engage with colleges and universities are fully vetted,” DeSantis continued.

In addition, the Florida governor signed a bill that establishes new criminal offenses in Florida for individuals who engage in the theft and trafficking of trade secrets.

“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. If the same person tries to sell the stolen trade secret, they’ll face a second-degree felony with even more penalties,” DeSantis proclaimed.

These measures are a sensible, realist approach to handling countries like China. The US should not have to go to war with it, but it should clearly communicate to China that it has red lines with regards to trade secrets and corporate espionage.

The best way of handling China is by restricting migration and implementing economic nationalism. This is a sober way of keeping China in check while also delaying its launch as a superpower that could potentially challenge American hegemony.