Chinese government officials have reportedly issued warnings through multiple channels to US government representatives that American nationals in China might be detained in retaliation for the Justice Department’s prosecution of Chinese military-affiliated scholars, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing sources.
The warnings, that are believed to have also been received by the US Embassy in Beijing, are suggested as saying that while the American officials persist with their charges against the scholars, Americans currently residing in China may be similarly detained.
Allegations of Intellectual Property Theft
Over the summer, there had been reports, cited by The Wall Street Journal, that Chinese postgraduate researchers involved in research at US universities in areas such as bio-medicine and artificial intelligence had been detained under claims they had failed to reveal their active duty statuses with the People’s Liberation Army to American immigration authorities.
US officials had alleged that Chinese diplomats were using the scientists as part of an intelligence-gathering scheme, according to an August report by the outlet.
The arrests resulted in the shutting down of China’s consulate in Houston in July, with the remaining military scientists working in the US recalled home.
The American actions at the time were believed to have followed several months of concerns voiced by the Trump administration that Chinese diplomats were allegedly recruiting their researchers to gather cutting-edge scientific research from US universities.
After the White House took a decision in May to restrict issuing future visas for such researchers, Chinese officials started to extract the scientists from the US, claimed the report.
Prosecutors were cited to have claimed in court papers that in some instances, the researchers brought to the Chinese Embassy in Washington were instructed by their country’s diplomats to delete or reset all their electronic devices to prepare them for questioning by US officers at the airport.
China’s Foreign Ministry responded at the time by stating that their diplomats “have never engaged in activities incompatible with their status.”
China also dismissed all US accusations of seeking to fulfil its military and technological ambitions in ways that might jeopardise American national security.
While not commenting on the reports of retaliatory “threats” issued by Chinese officials, a State Department spokesperson was cited by the outlet as warning all American citizens travelling to China regarding the “arbitrary enforcement of local laws, in particular, the exit bans imposed on US citizens.”
It was also added that according to the State Department’s website, the agency similarly warns “US citizens that business disputes, court orders to pay a settlement, or government investigations into both criminal and civil issues may result in an exit ban which will prohibit your departure from China until the issue is resolved.”
The spokesperson cautioned that individuals and their family members who are not directly involved in these cited proceedings might find themselves “subject to an exit ban”.
John Demers, head of the Justice Department’s national security division, similarly did not offer a comment on the current report.
However he was cited by the outlet as confirming that “the Chinese government has, in other instances, detained American, Canadian and other individuals without legal basis to retaliate against lawful prosecutions and to exert pressure on their governments, with a callous disregard of the individuals involved.”
"...If China wants to be seen as one of the world’s leading nations, it should respect the rule of law and stop taking hostages.”
The current report feeds into recently spiralling tensions between Washington and Beijing.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, US President Donald Trump has repeatedly blamed China for the outbreak and its fallout.
The current accusations are part of a massive campaign waged by Trump and his administration targeting Chinese tech firms, citing alleged national security concerns.
The broadsides have been aimed at companies such as Huawei Technologies, WeChat's Tencent, TikTok's ByteDance and Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp, as well as numerous others restricted by an Entity List in May last year.
While Washington is yet to offer any specific evidence for its claims, officials in Beijing, as well as execs from Huawei have been vehemently dismissing all cybersecurity-related accusations.