Feds Charge Chinese Spy For Trying To Steal Trade Secrets From US Aviation Companies

Will Racke | Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter

A Chinese spy has been arrested and charged with multiple counts of economic espionage for allegedly trying to steal trade secrets from leading U.S. aviation and aerospace companies, the Justice Department announced Wednesday.

Yanjun Xu, identified by federal prosecutors as an intelligence officer with China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS), was first arrested in Belgium in April pursuant to an FBI criminal complaint. Belgian authorities extradited Xu to the U.S. on Tuesday.

According to a grand jury indictment unsealed Wednesday, Xu targeted companies inside and outside the U.S. by inviting their employees to travel to China, ostensibly to give presentations at Chinese universities. Among the targeted companies was Ohio-based GE Aviation, a subsidiary of General Electric and a major U.S. defense contractor.

Justice Department officials said the case was typical of China’s attempts to exploit employees of leading U.S. defense and technology firms.

“This case is not an isolated incident. It is part of an overall economic policy of developing China at American expense,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers said in a statement. “We cannot tolerate a nation’s stealing our firepower and the fruits of our brainpower. We will not tolerate a nation that reaps what it does not sow.”

The case against Xu is the latest suspected Chinese espionage plot targeting U.S. scientists and engineers. It comes a little more than two weeks after federal authorities arrested Chinese national Ji Chaoqun for allegedly identifying potential recruits on behalf of the MSS.

Ji was a student visa holder who had enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves through a special recruitment program for foreign nationals with advanced language and technical skills. Like Xu, he allegedly targeted aerospace experts working for U.S. defense contractors. (RELATED: White House Considered Suspending Student Visas For Chinese Nationals To Fight Espionage)

Wednesday’s announcement comes as Washington and Beijing continue to feud over trade issues. The Trump administration has slapped tariffs on more than $200 billion worth of Chinese imports, accusing Beijing of undermining U.S. industry through unfair trade practices. Beijing has responded with tariffs of its own and last month refused Washington’s invitation to begin another round of trade talks.

Closely linked to the trade spat is China’s theft of U.S. technology and intellectual property, one of Washington’s biggest grievances against Beijing. Earlier in October, Vice President Mike Pence accused Chinese security agencies of “mastermind[ing] the wholesale theft of American technology.”

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