Florida governor Ron DeSantis (R.) signed two bills Monday cracking down on Chinese influence in the state's businesses and schools.
One of the bills addresses the influence of foreign adversaries by upping penalties for corporate espionage conducted on behalf of foreign regimes or companies. The second bill forbids agreements between public entities in Florida and seven "countries of concern," including China, Russia, and Iran. DeSantis said in a Monday press conference the second bill would kick Confucius Institutes—cultural centers funded by China that some U.S. officials have labeled a national security threat—off of college campuses in Florida.
The governor said the two bills show Florida is "fighting back" against China as lawmakers in Washington struggle to do so.
"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. "Enough is enough, we've got to start fighting back…. Florida is doing that."
Florida is no stranger to Chinese influence in its schools. In February, the Department of Justice indicted a Chinese researcher at the University of Florida for committing fraud to obtain $1.75 million in grants from the school and the National Institutes of Health for medical studies. In 2018, Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) urged four Florida universities and a public high school to cut ties with their own Confucius Institutes.
The theft of intellectual property by the Chinese Communist Party is commonplace across the country. FBI director Chris Wray said in April 2020 that his agency opens an investigative case into China's actions every 10 hours. Monday's legislation would criminalize the theft of trade secrets and elevate the penalties for doing so on behalf of foreign actors.
The governor also said it is "pretty clear" the Chinese Communist Party covered up the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, endorsing the increasingly popular theory that the virus may have emerged from a lab leak at China's Wuhan Institute of Virology.
"If you look at what’s gone on now with the coronavirus pandemic and the coverup 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," DeSantis said. "They covered it up, and they need to be held accountable for this."