It’s a good thing markets no longer trouble themselves which such trivial matters as rapidly deteriorating relations between the world’s two superpowers, because China is apparently harboring a fugitive at their San Francisco consulate.
Long story short, Tang Juan, a researcher at the University of California, Davis, who came to the US on a J-1 visa, was assessed to be active Chinese military personnel last month. On her visa application, she did not mention her work at a PLA-affiliated university in China, an omission constituting visa fraud. The FBI obtained a warrant, searched her home, and apparently found evidence to support the notion that she is, in fact, affiliated with the Chinese military. On June 26, she was charged. (The criminal complaint contains two yearbook-style pictures of Tang in a uniform.)
“During an interview with FBI agents on June 20, 2020, Tang denied serving in the Chinese military, claimed she did not know the meaning of the insignia on her uniform, and that wearing a military uniform was required for attendance at FMMU because it was a military school”, the US wrote, in a court filing, adding that,
[The] FBI executed a search warrant at Tang’s residence, and a search of her electronic media found further evidence of Tang’s PLA affiliation.
The FBI assesses that, at some point following the search and interview of Tang on June 20, 2020, Tang went to the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco, where the FBI assesses she has remained.
“We made the Chinese government aware that she is a charged individual, so it unquestionable that they know the defendant is a fugitive from Justice”, a DOJ official said, when contacted by Axios for the story.
Other media outlets have reached out to the State department, the FBI, and China’s ministry of foreign affairs. The same linked filing outlines what prosecutors allege is a “program conducted by the PLA… to send military scientists to the United States on false pretenses with false covers or false statements about their true employment”.
During Wednesday’s installment of the rebooted coronavirus briefings, Donald Trump said it’s possible other Chinese consulates in the US will be shuttered in addition to the Houston mission, which was forcibly closed this week.
It now seems just as likely as not that the administration will take some manner of action against the San Francisco consulate. “As the Tang case demonstrates, the Chinese consulate in San Francisco provides a potential safe harbor for a PLA official intent on avoiding prosecution in the United States”, prosecutors alleged, in addition to noting that “there exists evidence in at least one of these cases of a military scientist copying or stealing information from American institutions at the direction of military superiors in China”.
This was first reported by Axios late Tuesday evening. Now that it’s “out there” (so to speak), one can only assume that the DoJ, State, and very possibly the White House, will address it at some point. For their part, Beijing will surely suggest this is more unfounded harassment. Last month, for example, the irascible Hua Chunying (a spokeswoman for the Foreign ministry) called the arrest of another researcher mentioned in the same court filings “blatant political persecution”.
“As far as I know, Wang Xin does research in the field of cardiovascular diseases. I don’t see how that could ever threaten US national interest or security”, she remarked, referencing Xin Wang, who was detained at LAX on June 7. “Recently many Chinese citizens were questioned for a long time by American law enforcement officials while leaving the US, and the digital devices they carried were also examined”, Hua went on to say, at the time.
On Thursday, another Foreign ministry spokesperson, Wang Wenbin, said “[our] position on the China-US relationship is clear and consistent”. “As to which direction this relationship is heading, it’s an issue for the US to carefully think about”, he added.
Meanwhile, Global Times editor-in-chief Hu Xijin wrote in a Weibo post that “the US has over 1,000 staff at the Hong Kong consulate”. “What are so many people doing?”, he wondered, apparently mocking Marco Rubio’s comments about the Houston closure. “It is obviously a spy center”. Hu suggested China may force the US to cut its staff at the Hong Kong mission.
Hu said Wednesday China may close a US operation in Wuhan, and The South China Morning Post says “China is moving to close the US consulate in Chengdu” in retaliation for Houston.
Washington has five consulates on the Chinese mainland — one in Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenyang, Chengdu, and Wuhan. That’s in addition to a consulate general for Hong Kong and Macau.
Can you say “decoupling”?