In sharply worded comments today, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis took on China, vowing to stop its “nefarious foreign influence and corporate espionage in Florida.” The comments came during the signing of new legislation which bans specific foreign governments, such as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), from entering into partnerships or other direct deals with Florida’s universities and colleges and makes theft and trafficking of trade secrets a criminal offense under state law.
But he didn’t stop there. He openly accused China of covering up the truth about the COVID-19 virus, saying it was “almost assuredly” leaked from the Wuhan laboratories.
“They (the CCP) tried to cover it up and basically the world has had to endure over a year and a half of a lot of bad stuff as a result of this,” DeSantis said during a press conference at a Florida National Guard armory in Miami. “They covered it up and they need to be held accountable for this.”
He pointed to recent developments brought to light by publicly released emails exchanged with the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a 50-year doctor the National Institutes of Health Anthony Fauci, regarding the origins of COVID -19, which spotlight the close connection many of the United States’ institutions, like federal bureaucracies, research universities and large corporations, have with communist China.
“I really hope that we’re going to have accountability for the origins of the COVID pandemic,” DeSantis said, “because this just did not need to happen and yes, the Chinese Communist Party is primarily to blame but there’s also American money there. There were U.S. bureaucrats who were involved, at a minimum, trying to divert attention away from the true origins (of the COVID virus). And so all of those folks need to be held accountable.”
Beyond the federal bureaucracy, he called out academia, the media, Big Tech and others. He said many in academia, including in Florida, were “in cahoots” with the Chinese government. He accused Big Tech and celebrities for “putting their thumb on the scale in favor of protecting the Communist Party of China” and falling silent when it comes to calling out the atrocities committed by China.
He also called out the media.
“You look at corporate media in this country. They were on the vanguard of trying to suppress the truth about the lab leak theory. They’ve got deep financial ties to the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party and we just have to call it for what it is,” he said.
But one potential DeSantis political rival compared Chinese communist actions to those of the governor himself.
“Governor DeSantis talks tough about Chinese communists, which he should — but his actions here at home, from prioritizing Covid vaccines for his wealthy donors to restricting the right to vote — makes it clear he has more in common with corrupt and authoritarian regimes than with America’s proud traditions,” said U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, who has already jumped into the governor’s race to seek the Democratic nomination for 2022. “Florida deserves a governor who believes in our democracy and the power of all of our people. It’s clear Governor DeSantis doesn’t.”
Crist’s competition for the Democratic nomination, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The bills themselves were not controversial at all, passing both the Florida House and Senate chambers unanimously.
House Bill (HB) 7017 requires public entities to disclose gifts from foreign countries, increases review standards of grant applicants and vendors who receive state funds to review foreign connections, and thorough examination of foreign applicants for research positions and foreign travel or activities of employees of major research institutions. The bill requires state agencies and political subdivisions to disclose all foreign donations and grants of $50,000 or more to the Department of Financial Services and requires universities and colleges to disclose foreign donations and grants of $50,000 or more to the State University System Board of Governors or Department of Education. Applicants must disclose certain foreign financial connections with any of seven countries of concern (Russia, PRC, Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Syria, and Venezuela). The bill provides for enforcement of disclosure requirements and operational audits after implementation of screening requirements.
HB 1523, Combatting Corporate Espionage in Florida Act, creates new criminal offenses in Florida for the theft and trafficking of trade secrets. Anyone who willfully and 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. Individuals attempting to sell stolen trade secrets will face a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. If an individual or entity violates this law on behalf of a foreign government, the penalties are severely enhanced — reclassifying the felony one degree higher and increasing the offense severity ranking.
“We don’t want bad actors involved in our colleges and universities and we will hold you accountable if you run afoul of these new laws,” DeSantis said.
“I do think what we’re doing here is the state level is important. It’s significant but there’s much more that needs to be done to combat CCP influence within the United States.”