TALLAHASSEE, Florida — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has announced he will travel to Israel, Japan, South Korea, and the United Kingdom as part of an international trade mission, giving the expected Republican presidential candidate a platform to bolster his foreign policy credentials.
DeSantis formally detailed the trip in a statement Thursday, saying, “This trade mission will give us the opportunity to strengthen economic relationships and continue to demonstrate Florida’s position as an economic leader.”
The trip comes as DeSantis is nearing the anticipated launch of his presidential campaign and has been aggressively touring battleground states in the US for speeches and meetings with Republican officials. The governor is widely seen as the most formidable challenger to former president Donald Trump for the Republican nomination.
The visits will have DeSantis convening with business and government leaders such as Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, South Korean Prime Minister Han Duck-soo and British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, according to a news release. DeSantis is also set to deliver a keynote address on April 27 at an event marking the 75th anniversary of Israel’s independence.
The governor will be accompanied by his wife, first lady Casey DeSantis, Secretary of State Cord Byrd and Secretary of Commerce Laura DiBella.
DeSantis is expected to announce his candidacy for president after the state legislative session ends in early May.
In Israel, Desantis will be speaking at an April 27 gala event organized by The Jerusalem Post and the Museum of Tolerance in the capital, his office confirmed to the Times of Israel last month.
“A few months after my inauguration for my first term as Governor of Florida, I traveled to Israel for a state visit with the largest ever trade delegation from the Sunshine State to the Jewish State,” DeSantis said in a statement. “Since that time, we have strengthened the relationship between Florida and Israel through increased investment by Israeli companies in our state, fighting the scourge of [the anti-Israeli Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement], and being home to the fastest growing Jewish population in the United States.”
“At a time of unnecessarily strained relations between Jerusalem and Washington, Florida serves as a bridge between the American and Israeli people,” he added in an apparent shot at the Biden administration over its handling of ties with the Jewish state.
DeSantis has long been one of the most vocally pro-Israel members of the Republican party, focusing his criticism of Middle East leaders on the Palestinians. He claims in his recent book that he helped lay the groundwork for former US president Donald Trump’s 2018 decision to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and argues that the West Bank is “disputed” rather than “occupied” territory.
The Florida governor has also passed legislation targeting companies who boycott Israel or its West Bank settlements. In 2019, he promised to be “the most pro-Israel governor in America.”
During a visit to Israel that same year, he ran a ceremonial Florida Cabinet meeting with other state officials.
His efforts to boost funding for security improvements in Jewish schools earned him accolades from Jewish leaders, but other sections of the community have taken particular issue with his stances on LGBTQ rights.