Alleged Russian meddling in American elections may get the headlines, Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio said on Tuesday, but it’s Chinese espionage that worries him more.
Rubio, the former Florida House Speaker first elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010, spoke with reporters in a rare media briefing in his Tallahassee office on the 21st floor of the Capitol.
“Under the Bush administration, there was still a hope that in China, free enterprise would lead to democracy and they would become more like us,” he said. “I think by the second half of the Obama administration there was a realization about the threat that China was posing.”
The threat is “deeper” than the Big Brother-like oppression of its own people, Rubio said.
“I’m talking about the ability to send people to study in the U.S., become U.S. citizens, embed themselves in American corporate entities that work in defense, and deliver secrets,” he said.
He’s not the first Florida politician to recently sound an alarm over that type of intervention.
Last August, Republican Congressmen Matt Gaetz and Neal Dunn, both of whom represent Florida Panhandle districts, held what they called a “field hearing” at Florida State University on Chinese intellectual property theft.
A panel included Dean Minardi, CEO of Tallahassee-based Bing Energy, which is embroiled in federal litigation against its sister Chinese company, Nantong Bing Energy, over the alleged theft of hydrogen fuel cell technology.
It’s “not just an accusation: It is very real and it hurts very real people,” Minardi said, calling it “breathtaking thievery on a grand, international scale.”
China engages in an “outright pattern of stolen ideas,” the “immoral equivalent of an act of war,” he said. A Nantong Bing Energy official has denied all allegations of wrongdoing.
Added Rubio on Tuesday: “I’m talking about them sending agents to the United States to coerce or even kidnap Chinese nationals, wanted by them for alleged crimes. Not to mention how they’re using their investment power to reach into local governments, state governments.”
Chinese influence includes investing in smaller foreign companies under the radar, to “get to the core of a product” in supply chains.
“It sounds like science fiction, but it is an all out effort,” Rubio told reporters. “When you lift the veil on this, you realize what you’re confronting … It’s not paranoia, it’s a real thing.”