Chinese officials have warned the US that they will detain Americans if the Justice Department prosecutes Chinese scholars who are affiliated with the Chinese military, The New York Times reported.
US law enforcement officials report that five recently arrested Chinese scholars did not disclose their military affiliations on their visa applications, therefore accusing that China may be conducting industrial espionage in their research centres.
The Trump administration announced it was barring Chinese students at the graduate level or higher from entering the US if they had ties to military institutions in China
"A lot of our ideas, technology, research, innovation is incubated on those university campuses," said Bill Evanina, the top counterintelligence official in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. "That's where the science and technology originates — and that's why it's the most prime place to steal."
At Chicago’s Illinois Institute of Technology, a Chinese student was charge with helping to recruit spies for China’s MSS, the country’s version of the American CIA.
In response, the FBI and other agencies are pushing universities and research institutions to tighten policies governing outside relationships, travel disclosure and conflicts of interest.
But the government pressure has sparked accusations of racial profiling and pushback by college presidents who say the government’s reaction risks America’s greatest strength — openness.
At a conference, Temple University physics professor Xiaoxing Xi tearfully recalled being detained by the FBI, who accused him of spying for China, in front of his children.
Four months later, prosecutors dropped the charges after it became clear the case was based on a misunderstanding of information Xi sent to scientists in China, which turned out to be available on the internet.
"There have been so many cases of wrongful prosecution, of lives ruined because of a rush to judgment," said former Washington state Gov. Gary Locke, who served as US Ambassador to China.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, accused the United States on Monday of “outright political repression” of Chinese scholars when asked at a news conference in Beijing about reports of detention threats made by Chinese officials.
“The U.S. claim that foreign nationals in China are under threat of arbitrary detention is playing the victim and confusing black and white,” he said.
“We are aware 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,” John C. Demers, the head of the Justice Department’s national security division, said in a statement.
These threats are worsening tensions between the US and China, whose relationship became increasingly unstable following the coronavirus pandemic.
The Chinese government vehemently denies the accusations that members of its military are in the United States for scientific and industrial espionage.