Senator Rick Scott Takes on China

March 24, 2020 Updated: March 24, 2020
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“The last few decades of policies coming out of Washington have not solved the problem of Communist China. We’ve merely altered the battlefield.”

So said Senator Rick Scott, Republican of Florida, who took office in January 2019.  Scott, who had been Florida’s governor for the previous eight years, spoke at the Hudson Institute in Washington.

Over the last year, Scott has become one of the most consistent voices in the Senate calling out China on a litany of misdeeds.

Backing up his rhetoric, however, Scott has also introduced and supported a body of legislation which is targeted at reducing America’s engagement with China.

Blocking Drone Purchases

A major piece of that legislation is the American Security Drone Act of 2019, introduced last September.  The Act would ban the federal government from buying drones from “any entity subject to influence or control by the Government of the People’s Republic of China or the Communist Party of the People’s Republic of China, as determined by the Secretary of Homeland Security.”

Currently, the United States military and other federal agencies buy Chinese-manufactured drones from DJI Technology, a privately-owned Chinese company based in Shenzhen, China.

Shenzhen, often dubbed China’s Silicon Valley, is also home to Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications giant that has been banned from selling its 5G and other systems in the United States and among many of its allies.  National security concerns have been raised that the capability of those systems can act as back doors to help the Chinese regime spy on America.

Scott’s Drone Act bill has had its effect on DJI’s efforts to keep its U.S. government and U.S. military customers.

Congressional lobbying reports show that the Chinese drone manufacturer engages in million-dollar lobbying activities on Capitol Hill.  A significant part of that lobbying effort has gone to trying to counter the impact of Scott’s legislation, which is co-sponsored by his Republican Florida colleague, Senator Marco Rubio.

A review of official lobbying disclosures filed with the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives shows that from 2018 to 2019, DJI reported expenditures of $1,240,000 on legal and lobbying services to advance its interests with the United States government.

The firms providing those services include top names such as Akin Gump, as well as BGR Government Affairs, and K&L Gates.

American lawyers and lobbyists with those and other firms reported that they helped the Chinese company with “trade issues” and legislation related to “the prohibition on operation or procurement of foreign-made UAS unmanned aerial systems in…the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act,” a 2019 3rd quarter report said.

Blocking Huawei and Tear Gas to Hong Kong

Scott’s legislative initiatives to block Chinese influence in America also include a bill to prohibit intelligence sharing with countries that install 5G equipment from Huawei.

Not content to challenge Huawei only on its reach into third-country markets, Scott also introduced legislation to stop American companies from selling key component parts to Huawei.

At the same time, Scott has also focused on Hong Kong, particularly with respect to its pro-Beijing government’s response to protests that overwhelmed the city throughout the second half of 2019.

After a trip to the former British colony last fall, Scott supported the legislation that would ultimately lead to a ban on U.S. sales of crowd control equipment to the Hong Kong police.

Scott sent a letter to the American company that manufactured and sold the tear gas used against Hong Kong citizens in protests sparked by an extradition bill that could have seen political and religious dissidents sent to China for trial.

In a letter to the president of NonLethal Technologies, Inc., based in Homer City, Penn., Scott said the sales were equivalent to supporting efforts of the Chinese leader to “harm ordinary citizens and peaceful protesters.” He asked for a meeting with the company’s president, urging the company to “put human rights above profits.”

Ultimately, Scott won his point.

In late November 2019, U.S. President Donald Trump signed into law not only The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019, but S.2710, “An Act to Prohibit the Commercial Export of Covered Munitions Items to the Hong Kong Police Force”.

That law successfully stopped the tear gas exports that were coming out of Pennsylvania.

American Interests

“I fought successfully to get the Peace Corps out of Communist China”, Scott said.

The Peace Corps announced in February that it was ending its program in China.  Scott had been advocating for that outcome, asking, “Why are we there?”

Scott’s rationale, he said, is that Peace Corps activities in China brought no advantage to the United States.

Peace Corps officials told him that they were only teaching English, he said, but were not advancing American ideas or values.

Scott is also a leading critic of Beijing’s human rights abuses and repression in Xinjiang province, where the Muslim ethnic minority Uyghurs have been forced into extrajudicial “training and education” camps designed to break down and then rebuild camp inmates into model Chinese citizens.

“I believe we ought to stand…for human rights. We believe every individual’s life is important. And so even though the Uyghurs don’t live in the United States, their lives are just as important as all of ours.”

Turning to his own state, Scott sees Chinese influence in the drug trade.

“We only have five international mail centers. And there’s so much mail that comes in through China, we can’t check every package.”

“Every day they’re finding illegal drugs coming in from China. Every day.  This is all intentional,” Scott said.

He added that the Miami mail center is only the fourth busiest of the five, implying that mail coming through the three busier international mail centers probably contains far more Chinese fentanyl than is found in Miami.