House Advances Bill to Prevent ‘Countries of Concern’ from Exploiting Florida Universities, Especially China

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has made it a top priority to counteract malign foreign influence in Florida, particularly regarding Chinese influence in educational institutions and investment in critical industries such as agriculture, tech, and real estate.

On Wednesday, a bill prohibiting Florida’s public universities from receiving gifts from ‘countries of concern’ passed a key procedural step in the Florida House of Representatives and should soon face a vote on the floor.

The bill, HB 679, also lists Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Syria, and Venezuela as “countries of concern,” but its primary focus is China, according to sponsor Jennifer Canady, who is a Republican Representative from Lakeland.

DeSantis signed other legislation in July that prevented China from stealing intellectual property from Florida-based countries and exploiting the Florida university system by using access to research institutions.

“Foreign adversaries, like the Chinese Communist Party, cannot access Florida’s schools, government, and companies – including banning Confucius Institutes in our colleges and universities.” He said.

Canady said that while not all relations between foreign countries and universities are ‘problematic,’ Florida and other states must be cognizant of China’s strategy to steal intellectual property from the United States for the benefit of their military.

“Not all collaborations are problematic. Some of them are quite beneficial,” she told House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee members, who advanced the bill to the floor this week.

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“But common sense dictates that our Florida universities must not have ties to the Chinese Communist Party (and the) civil-military fusion strategy that is often executed through research labs associated with Chinese universities.”

Other experts and researchers have warned that scientists and researchers should be cautious about working with China and organizations funded by the Chinese government due to its civil-military fusion strategy.

According to the U.S. Department of State, “Military-Civil Fusion” is China’s aggressive national strategy to modernize its People’s Liberation Army as a “world-class military” by 2049. The plan involves civilian research institutions collaborating with the Chinese military to advance military technologies. It often occurs through the Chinese government intentionally targeting and stealing advanced technologies of other countries.

The United States government has made China’s theft of United States intellectual property a top priority in negotiations with the Chinese Communist Party. One expert at a Capitol Hill hearing estimated that the Chinese government has stolen roughly $600 billion in U.S. intellectual property.

Canady further said that she agreed with foreign countries maintaining relationships with public universities, some of which she saw as ‘positive collaborations, but that it was necessary to ‘review’ relationships between public universities and foreign countries to make sure they are not exploiting United States educational institutions.

“(That’s) why there’s this on-ramp,” she said, referring to her bill. “What is required under this bill is where there are those opportunities for those positive collaborations, they are simply reviewed to make sure that they do meet that two-pronged test.”

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