U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is calling on state lawmakers to remain proactive against Chinese government influence, particularly within local governments and universities.
Speaking to the Florida House Public Integrity and Elections Committee on Monday via Zoom, Rubio warned members about a nationwide foreign interference effort. In years past, he noted, state universities have been compromised.
“It’s an enormous challenge,” Rubio said. “It’ll define the 21st century and there’s only so much we can do at the federal level about it.”
Rubio said the Chinese government can infiltrate universities using several strategies.
Researchers and graduate students, Rubio said, can be used to gather intelligence.
“They have bought researchers,” Rubio told lawmakers. “They’ve gone into universities and paid people or had side deals with researchers who sell them these advances.”
A former Florida House Speaker, Rubio also warned about Chinese influence on American students.
He said China is attempting to project a “pro-China narrative” onto campuses, particularly concerning Hong Kong and the Uyghur Muslims.
“If you’re 19 or 20 years old now at a university, in 20 years, you’ll be in the Senate, you’ll be in Congress, you’ll be in the state Legislature, you’ll be a CEO of a company,” Rubio said. “So, they try to really plant those seeds and are very patient about it long term.”
Further, Rubio cautioned that foreign government officials may contact local officials they think can climb into higher ranks.
“They play a big role in local governments,” Rubio said. “They try to reach out to local officials that they think could one day become governors, senators, congressmen, foreign or federal policymakers and they try to create those relationships early on.”
Moreover, Rubio asserted that China takes interest in local infrastructure projects.
“Their companies will come in and bid on local infrastructure or state infrastructure,” Rubio said. “They can undercut any competitor and put your competitors out of business, then you become the dominant companies in the world.”
In February, federal authorities indicted a University of Florida researcher who created a company in China that would profit from his taxpayer-funded UF research.
The researcher and Chinese resident, Lin Yang, reportedly concealed that he received support from the Chinese government.
Yang traveled to China in August 2019 and has yet to return to the United States, according to the Department of Justice.