Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order Thursday prohibiting state agencies from contracting with Chinese-based companies for projects that could allow them to access Floridians’ personal data. It’s part of a broader crackdown on the Chinese government’s attempts to “infiltrate” institutions throughout the country.

DeSantis also said he’ll push the Legislature next year to ban gifts from certain “malign” foreign countries, such as China, Russia, Cuba and Iran, to higher education institutions.

The Legislature last year passed HB 7017, requiring universities and colleges to disclose any gifts worth more than $50,000, but DeSantis wants to go further. Under his proposal, any government agency, including local governments, wouldn’t be able to contract with Chinese-based companies if the contract allows access to personal data.

“This is things like Social Security numbers, it’s things like your bank account information, and it’s things like your medical records,” DeSantis said during an event at Miami-Dade College. “That should not be in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.”

DeSantis also bashed the tactic of the Chinese government of buying tracts of agricultural land in the U.S., as well as land nearby U.S. military institutions. He said more than 5% of Florida’s agricultural land is foreign-owned, although he admitted that includes friendly countries such as the United Kingdom and didn’t specify how much Florida land was owned by the Chinese government.

China is the top exporter of goods to Florida, sending $12.7 billion of goods to the Sunshine State in 2021. That’s $5 billion more than the next-highest country, Mexico, and covers 13.6% of all Florida imports. It’s also the 10th-most popular destination for Florida exports, receiving $1.5 billion worth of Florida goods last year, according to Enterprise Florida data.

Enterprise Florida is the state’s private-public economic development agency, which DeSantis Chairs. Its website lists Hong Kong among its international offices.

Within the last decade, a series of incidents involving professors at universities throughout the country and in Florida absconding to China with intellectual property and possible military secrets sparked alarm among U.S. officials.

A former University of Florida professor, Lin Yang, was indicted in February 2021 for making false statements to U.S. officials and obtaining a $1.75 million grant from the National Institutes of Health under false pretenses. Yang had fled to China two years earlier, however.

Also, four University of Central Florida professors have fled to China since 2016, even as law enforcement sought to question some of them over their ties to Chinese institutions. Six Moffitt Cancer Center researchers resigned in 2019 following reports they didn’t disclose their ties to China. Miami-Dade College also closed its Confucius Institute program in 2019, which was accused of being a front for the Chinese government to promote its interests.

If DeSantis wins re-election in November, he’ll ask lawmakers to pass the measures in their next Regular Session, which begins March 7.

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