EXCLUSIVE: DeSantis’ Office Exploring ‘Options’ To Deal With Chinese Ownership Of School With Military Prep Course

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office is exploring options to “protect” citizens from the potential threat of Chinese ownership of a high school that runs a junior U.S. military prep course, a spokesperson told the Daily Caller News Foundation Wednesday.

Florida Republican Rep. Mike Waltz raised concerns about Chinese companies with investments in schools across the country that host Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) programs intended to prepare high schoolers for future military service, including at the Florida Preparatory Academy in the city of Melbourne, in a letter Tuesday. Beijing’s financial leverage over Florida Prep could present a security threat to the state, Jeremy Redfern, deputy press secretary at the Florida governor’s office, later told the DCNF.

“We do not believe that a school where the Chinese Communist Party has a controlling interest can instill the values of citizenship and service to the United States,” he said. “This school represents a direct threat to public safety and the interests of Florida.” (RELATED: ‘Significant Threat’: Small-Town Mayor Blocks Proposed Chinese Mill Near Military Base)

“The state is exploring available options to protect the students and Floridians in this matter,” Redfern added.

The Florida Preparatory Academy operates an Air Force JROTC program, the website shows.

However, the school’s owners have connections to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Newopen USA, a subsidiary of China’s Chongquing-based Newopen Education Group, bought the school in 2017 and expressed an intention to expand the institution’s science, technology, engineering, arts and math curriculum offerings and faculty, according to Florida Today. Newopen Group’s chairman, Zhou Dengguang, participates in the CCP-sponsored Chinese Entrepreneurs Association and has advised its secretary general on national strategic development and resource cooperation, Waltz said in the statement.

Florida Prep is adjacent to the state’s advanced space technology hub, Florida Today reported.

Waltz had asked the Department of Defense (DOD) in the letter for more information regarding the extent of military preparation programs at U.S. private schools with financial connections to the CCP.

DOD will respond when it receives the correspondence, a spokesperson told the DCNF.

The statement from DeSantis’ office followed a DCNF query regarding whether the governor’s office had prior knowledge of China’s ownership.

DeSantis has taken steps to limit China’s financial and political influence in the state of Florida, recently floating a ban on Chinese property ownership throughout the state. In 2021, he signed legislation aiming to prevent Beijing from stealing intellectual secrets through access to Florida’s educational system.

“Make no mistake — China is a hostile foreign power, and every Governor has the responsibility to protect their education system, and every other entity within their purview, from the espionage and commercial theft undertaken by the Chinese Communist Party,” DeSantis said at the time.

Newopen USA did not immediately respond to a request for comment sent to a contact found on an archived version of the website, which appears to be currently unavailable.

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