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Ex-General Electric engineer sentenced for China-linked espionage plot

A New York man was sentenced on Tuesday to two years in prison for plotting to commit economic espionage. Documents show that the ex-General Electric (GE) engineer planned to steal trade secrets for China.

A US federal court in New York announced on Tuesday that a former GE employee was sentenced to 24 months in prison following his conviction on charges of spying for China.

Zheng Xiaoqing, 59, was convicted of conspiracy to commit economic espionage following a four-week jury trial that ended in March last year. He was convicted with Zhaoxi Zhang, a businessman based in China’s Liaoning province, over a plan to take millions of dollars worth of GE trade secrets.

Zheng was employed at GE Power in Schenectady, New York, as an engineer, and specialized in turbine sealing technology. The trial evidence showed he and others in China conspired to steal trade secrets surrounding ground-based and aviation-based turbine technologies to benefit China.

The Department of Justice says that the stolen trade secrets would have reached “China-based companies and universities that research, develop, and manufacture parts for turbines.”

“This is a case of textbook economic espionage. Zheng exploited his position of trust, betrayed his employer and conspired with the government of China to steal innovative American technology,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.

“The Justice Department will hold accountable those who threaten our national security by conniving to steal valuable trade secrets on behalf of a foreign power.”

It was the second such sentencing in recent weeks involving espionage with the intention to gather the company’s proprietary turbine technology.

A US federal court in Cincinnati sentenced a Chinese national in November to 20 years in prison after he was convicted of plotting to steal trade secrets from several U.S. aviation and aerospace companies.

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has for years been signaling Beijing is systematically employing such predatory tactics in order to become the world’s greatest superpower.

“The greatest long-term threat to our nation’s information and intellectual property, and to our economic vitality, is the counterintelligence and economic espionage threat from China,” the FBI Director Christopher Wray said in 2020, when the Bureau released its report “The China Threat.

The Department of Justice also said Zheng was actually a Thousand Talents Program member. It is a program by the central government of China to recruit experts in science and technology from abroad, principally but not exclusively from overseas Chinese communities.

Since the 1990s, US prosecutors have charged almost 700 people with espionage, IP theft, illegally exporting military technology, and other crimes linked to China. Two-thirds of the cases have led to convictions.

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