States push back against Chinese influence Operations

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Several states are moving to reduce Chinese government influence targeting American institutions, particularly in the education, infrastructure, and economic fields. While responding to espionage and influence operations is traditionally understood as a federal national security responsibility, increasingly foreign governments are also targeting state and local leaders and institutions for infiltration and subversion.

Three states have taken different approaches to curtail Chinese subversion in recent months: Florida, Texas and Alabama.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has announced that his state is once again setting the example for the rest of America by going on the offensive against communist dictators to stop Chinese government influence in Florida’s education system and government. DeSantis signed two bills which passed the Florida legislature to target China.

The first bill prohibits agreements between public entities and countries of particular concern and requires transparency and disclosure of agreements between public entities and foreign countries and entities. The countries of concern are China and Cuba.

The second bill criminalizes theft and trafficking of trade secrets, something the Chinese have done on an astonishing scale, often using academic arrangements to penetrate U.S. innovators and steal their ideas and technology.

Both these bills are important, and valuable contributions to the effort to oppose Chinese influence. But the Florida legislature failed to send other useful bills to DeSantis’s desk. These included legislation to prohibit government transactions with Chinese technology companies and for Chinese-made products. Another even stronger bill would have prohibited specific arrangements between public colleges and Communist China. Finally, a resolution to commemorate victims of communism failed to pass.

While the Florida legislature still has more work to do, it has done more than any other state legislature on this topic thus far.  Under DeSantis, Florida can be expected to continue to lead on this issue.

In Texas, the legislature and Governor Greg Abbot have taken some preliminary steps to check Chinese activity in the Lone Star state. An important act signed into law prohibits agreements involving critical infrastructure with foreign companies from China, as well as Iran, North Korea and Russia.

The Texas legislature also passed a resolution condemning the gruesome practice of organ harvesting, which has been part of a systematic regime policy in Beijing.

Alabama is one of the states that is still plagued with the presence of Confucius Institutes on its public universities. Confucius Institutes are known incubators for communist propaganda, subversion, and infiltration, and work closely with Chinese government direction. Several state universities in Rhode Island, North Carolina, Florida, and Michigan have all shuttered campus Confucius Institutes in recent years.

Alabama State Representative Tommy Hanes recently introduced legislation to prohibit public institutions of higher education from providing support for organizations affiliated with the Chinese government.

This would have effectively shut down the Confucius Institutes on the campuses of Troy University and Alabama A&M. Hanes’ bill shined light on the situation and played a major role in Alabama A&M deciding to shut down its Confucius Institute in April.

Troy University however remains recalcitrant and insists on partnering with the communist regime in Beijing. Part of their reluctance is probably linked to the university’s foolish decision to sign an agreement requiring the university to pay back money received from the Chinese if it closes the institute.

There is no word yet on if there is an ongoing investigation into how and why Troy University entered into such an obviously lop-sided and manipulative agreement or an examination about who was involved in approving the deal. A State-authorized audit of the money trail would perhaps prove illuminating.

These initial measures by states are an important part of the effort to hold the Chinese government accountable. This is especially true as federal action against Chinese influence operations seems unlikely over the next 4 years. The Biden administration seems intent on a “tough-talk, soft-action” approach to the threat from China. Given on-going questions about President Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden amid allegations of influence-peddling to foreign nationals, it’s unlikely the Administration is going to pursue aggressive action against foreign influence campaigns, particularly against China.

As more and more revelations come out regarding Beijing’s violations of human rights and despotic behavior, more states will need to follow the example set by Florida, Texas and Alabama. States should take the lead in absence of federal leadership, and move against Chinese subversion and influence operations, utilizing existing statutes and creating new authorizing legislation where necessary.

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