In a sign of ever-heightening espionage tensions between the US and China, a federal court in Chicago has found another Chinese national guilty of spying.
Ji Chaoqun, 31, a citizen of China residing in the Illinois capital, was convicted of three espionage-related charges, after it emerged he had acted at the behest of Xu Yanjun, a functionary of China’s Ministry of State Security who was himself found guilty of spying last year.
Xu’s arrest and subsequent conviction in November attracted considerable attention as he was the first Chinese intelligence officer to be extradited to the US. Now it looks as though Ji will be joining his former boss, who ordered him to profile targeted scientists and engineers working on vital US tech projects with a view to recruiting them as spies.
“The individuals included Chinese nationals who were working as engineers and scientists in the United States, some for defense contractors,” said the Department of Justice, announcing the verdict. “This tasking was part of an effort by the Jiangsu provincial department to obtain access to advanced aerospace and satellite technologies being developed by companies within the US.”
Jiangsu is the branch of the Chinese ministry that Ji answered to, working “at the direction of high-level intelligence officers” based there. Like his original spymaster Xu, he now faces years in a US prison, although the presiding judge did not immediately set a sentencing date.
Brought to justice and convicted by a federal court in Ohio, Xu was convicted of spying on aviation companies in the US with the intent of stealing trade secrets, and appears to have recruited Ji to conduct similar operations.
The revelations around Ji are the all the more unsettling given that he was recruited to serve in the US army reserves in 2016, under a program that “authorized the US armed forces to recruit certain legal aliens whose skills are considered vital to the national interest.” But Ji lied on his application to join, falsely claiming to have had no contact with a foreign government for seven years.
In recent years, China has faced growing accusations from the West that it is mounting a sustained campaign of espionage against rival nations there to steal technology and enhance its competitiveness in global markets.
Commenting on Xu’s conviction, the FBI said: “This was state-sponsored economic espionage by the PRC [China] designed to steal American technology and put Americans out of work. For those who doubt the real goals of the PRC, this should be a wakeup call – they are stealing American technology to benefit their economy and military.”
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