Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said Monday that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was to blame for the COVID-19 pandemic and signed laws that thwart foreign influence across the state.
“I really hope that we’re going to have accountability for the origins of the COVID pandemic because this just did not need to happen,” DeSantis said at a press conference. “The Chinese Communist Party is primarily to blame, but there’s also American money that very well may have flown to Wuhan.”
On Monday, DeSantis signed two bills aimed at preventing CCP from influencing Florida’s educational institutions and from committing corporate espionage.
“The first bill that I signed today safeguards our public institutions from undue foreign influence and that means prohibiting agreements between public entities and the Communist Party of China or Cuba or any of these malignant forces,” he said.
The bill would ban CCP-sanctioned partnerships, like the Confucius Institute, which facilitates cultural exchanges, and any other direct deals between foreign governments and Florida’s universities and colleges.
The second bill DeSantis signed would make theft and trafficking of trade secrets a criminal offence under state law.
“Anyone who willfully, without authorization, steals or attempts to steal a trade secret and uses it for their own benefit will now face a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison,” he said.
He added that if the individual tried to sell the trade secret, they’ll face even more penalties and that those penalties would be even more harsh if the law is violated on behalf of a foreign government.
Individuals who commit corporate espionage are typically prosecuted under the federal system. The new law would allow Florida to step in during these cases and play the role of prosecutor under the state system.
DeSantis positioned his administration against the CCP, which he claimed was being supported by international and federal health organizations, infectious disease experts, media outlets and social media giants.
“The [World Health Organization] is in the pocket of the communist party of China. They basically were having everybody look the other way,” he said. “The idea was to try to whitewash the role of the CCP in this virus and it wasn’t just WHO, it wasn’t just bureaucracies. You saw the academic community largely circle the wagons and defend the CCP.”
“[Corporate media] wanted to weaponize COVID against Trump, but I think it was more than that. I do think there are deep relationships between these big media conglomerates, financial relationships, between them and the Chinese government…and then of course Big Tech was censoring people who wanted to have inquiries into the lab leak theory,” DeSantis added.
The governor said that the CCP was one of the largest proponents for lockdowns during the pandemic and that those ideas were supported through interference from Big Tech, which DeSantis alleged removed users that posted anti-lockdown content.
Throughout the pandemic, DeSantis has pushed back on the health guidance of national agencies. At the height of the pandemic, he was one of the last governors to implement a stay-at-home order before letting it expire after only a month.
He was also never implemented a statewide mask mandate and was one of the first governors to lift all coronavirus restrictions in the state during the fall.