On a few rare occasions Wednesday night — when Chris Christie wasn’t lobbing lame “Donald Duck” jokes at former President Trump or Tim Scott and Nikki Haley weren’t arguing over curtains — there were moments of actual substance that came up.
One of the moments that went under the radar — as, indeed, the issue itself has gone under the radar of most American voters — was when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis promised to stop Chinese interests from buying American farmland or from spreading Beijing’s propaganda through Confucius Institutes if he were to become president.
Why is he confident he can get it done? Because, as the governor told the audience at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, he was able to do it as governor of his state.
The exchange came after moderator Stuart Varney of Fox Business noted that China had invested $12 billion in Latin America last year alone and had signed a number of strategic partnerships with our neighbors to the south, including Mexico.
“Are you comfortable with China deepening ties with our southern neighbors?” Varney asked.
“Of course not. And the reason why we’re in this mess is because elites in D.C., for far too long, have chosen surrender over strength when it comes to the CCP,” DeSantis said.
“Some people in our country got rich. Our industrial base got hollowed out, and they have been able to build the second most powerful military in the entire world.”
The Florida governor went on to advocate “a totally new approach to China.”
“We are going to have real hard power in the Indo-Pacific — like Reagan — to deter their ambitions,” DeSantis said.
“We’re going to have economic independence from China where we’re decoupling our economy. And we are going to go after the cultural power they have in this country.
“As governor of Florida, I banned the CCP from buying land in our state. We should do that all across these United States,” he continued.
“We shouldn’t have them in our universities. We shouldn’t have Confucius Institutes. So you see a country in decline. Our power’s in decline. China’s going to surpass us this decade. And if they do that, that’s going to affect every single American household. As your president, I am not going to let that happen.”
DeSantis: “We will have economic independence from China … And we are going to go after the cultural power they have in this country. As governor of Florida, I banned the CCP from buying land in our state. We should do that all across these United States. We should not have… pic.twitter.com/1UK2FiqkL4
— Tom Elliott (@tomselliott) September 28, 2023
The idea of China buying American land and the idea of Confucius Institutes may sound like Greek — or, well, Chinese — to most Americans. It shouldn’t.
“China’s ownership of U.S. farmland is a threat to our food security and national security,” now-House Oversight Committee chair Rep. James Comer of Kentucky said at the time.
“An affordable, reliable food supply is critical to our nation’s well-being and prosperity, and we must ensure America maintains control of our nation’s resources.”
Confucius Institutes, meanwhile, are “Beijing-backed language and cultural learning centers,” as the Voice of America puts it. A propaganda tool is probably a more accurate term, and the fact that most of these centers were on college campuses reinforced this perception.
As the VOA reported, most of these “were closed throughout the United States after being designated a foreign mission by the State Department,” but a report last year from the National Association of Scholars found that of the 104 Confucius Institutes that were closed, “at least 28 have replaced their Confucius Institute with a similar program, and at least 58 have maintained close relationships with their former Confucius Institute partner.”
“In April 2007, Li Changchun, then chairman of the Central Guidance Commission on Building Spiritual Civilization under the Propaganda Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, said in a report by Xinhua, the Chinese state-run newspaper, that Confucius Institutes were an ‘important part of the CCP’s external propaganda structure,'” VOA reported.
“Confucius Institutes had many requirements for their partner Western universities, such as confidentiality agreements that meant schools could not disclose the amount of funding Confucius Institutes provided, according to the association report.
“Critics saw the institutes as an overseas propaganda machine for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), as well as a tool to monitor and interfere with speeches and activities on campuses. For example, in 2009, North Carolina State University canceled its plan to invite the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, to speak on campus after objections by the Confucius Institute.”
In other words, nothing that belongs on American soil — and Florida has ensured it doesn’t, at least not there. According to a 2019 Inside Higher Education report, the Sunshine State’s four Confucius Institutes had been shut down after political pressure.
Both of these issues may seem small, but they’ll loom a great deal larger as relations between Washington and Beijing become increasingly combative. Given the strained relationship as it is, the measures proposed by DeSantis on stage Wednesday night are something every GOP candidate should adopt — and they would have been a lot better off discussing substantive issues like that than engaging in “Donald Duck”-style name-calling.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.
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