MIAMI — In a news conference Monday decrying Chinese espionage and the theft of trade secrets by members of the Communist Party of China, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis blamed China for trying to "cover up 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. "This is a lab where these scientists were working closely with the Communist Party of China, as well as the Chinese military."
The governor said China did not ask for assistance, spread information about the virus or give other nations a heads up.
"They 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. "So, they covered it up and they need to be held accountable for this."
At the beginning of 2020, the governor said, there were people "scurrying around" to cover up the fact that the virus that causes COVID-19 "very well likely" came from a Chinese lab.
The pandemic exposed the relationships between Chinese institutions, particularly research institutions, and U.S. bureaucrats, DeSantis said.
The governor signed two bills aimed at preventing foreign influence from seven countries, including China, Cuba and Venezuela.
"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.
The governor also accused corporate media in the U.S. of trying to suppress the "truth about the lab leak theory."
He said "Big Tech" runs interference for China, citing a recent incident in which Bing users looking for the search term "tank man" were met with no image results on the anniversary of the bloody military crackdown in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989.
"Enough is enough," DeSantis said. "We've got to start fighting back."
DeSantis and several state lawmakers previewed the legislation in March, days before the 2021 legislative session began. The measures include preventing academic institutions from establishing foreign-language or cultural programs from certain countries, including China, North Korea, Syria and more.
That includes the controversial Confucius Institute, which the state of Florida terminated partnerships with in 2019.
See below for a list of provisions in the legislation on preventing foreign theft and combatting corporate espionage in Florida:
Protecting Institutions of Higher Education
- Every higher education institution, including their DSOs and foundations, will have to report any gift received from a foreign source that is $50,000 or more. Disclosures will be made to the Board of Governors or the Department of Education.
- Random audits by state inspectors general will review at least 10% of the foreign gift agreements.
- Research institutions will monitor foreign travel and provide an annual report of work-related foreign travel and activities listing travelers, locations and foreign institutions visited.
- Research institutions will more fully screen foreign applicants for research positions.
Safeguarding Public Entities and Recipients of Public Grants or Contracts
- Every state agency or political subdivision must disclose any grant, money, gift or anything of value worth more than $50,000 from any foreign source to the Department of Financial Services within 30 days of receipt.
- Private entities that apply for grants or want to do business with the state of Florida or receive large grants must disclose financial ties worth more than $50,000 with China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Syria, or Venezuela or their agents.
- Public entities are prohibited from entering into agreements or accepting donations to set up propaganda missions of China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Syria and Venezuela. These countries of concern exploit cultural agreements to influence and push their agendas on the state and local level.
Combatting Corporate Espionage in Florida
- Modernize the terminology in trade secret theft crime to expedite enforcement.
- Create a trafficking in trade secrets crime for any person who traffics or attempts to traffic in trade secrets they know or should have known was stolen.
- Include greater penalties for theft or trafficking in trade secrets if the crime intends to benefit a foreign government or entity.
- Allow a court to issue an injunction to prohibit improper use of a trade secret, require actions to protect the trade secret, or require payment of a reasonable royalty for use of a trade secret.