A 78-year-old American, who resides permanently in Hong Kong, was sentenced Monday in China to life in prison for “espionage”, which is expected to further strain relations between Beijing and Washington already at rock bottom.
Such severe punishment targeting a foreign national on this basis is relatively rare in the Asian country.
The announcement comes against the backdrop of a visit to Japan by US President Joe Biden, who is scheduled to participate in the G7 summit in Hiroshima from May 19-21.
Jun Xing Wan Leiong, also known as Liang Chengyun, “was guilty of espionage and was sentenced to life imprisonment and life deprivation of political rights,” the court said on Monday in a press release from the Suzhou (Eastern) Intermediate People’s Court. China).
His personal property amounting to 500,000 yuan (66,000 euros) was also confiscated during the preliminary trial held on Monday, possibly behind closed doors, as is usually the case in this type of case.
Suzhou authorities in charge of state security have taken “coercive measures” against this US citizen since 2021, according to the press release, wording that generally refers to detention.
The press release did not say the exact nature of the facts of which Jun Xing Wan Leung was accused, nor what his occupation or activity in China was.
Contacted on Monday, the US embassy in China did not immediately respond to a request for comment from AFP.
In any case, the announcement threatens to further deteriorate already strained Sino-American relations.
It has been dented in recent years by controversies over many topics: the trade imbalance, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Beijing’s treatment of the Muslim Uighur minority or rivalry in the technology sector, along with the Chinese balloons issue as recently as February.
At the end of April, the Chinese parliament adopted amendments to the national anti-espionage law, which now explicitly prohibit the transmission of any national security information outside of China and expand the concept of espionage.
A Chinese journalist known for his outspokenness, Dong Youyou, was formally charged with espionage in late April, according to a statement released by his family and seen by the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists.
Best known for the editorials he wrote for a conservative daily for China’s ruling Communist Party, he was arrested in February 2022 while having lunch in Beijing with a Japanese diplomat.
Foreigners are also regularly accused in China of espionage or similar crimes.
In February, a Japanese man was sentenced to 12 years in prison for espionage, according to Japan’s Kyodo news agency.
Chinese-Australian writer Yang Jun was arrested in January 2019 for the same reason.
Canberra last week called for the release of Australian journalist Cheng Lei, who has been held for more than 1,000 days and works for the Chinese public broadcaster CGTN.
Beijing is prosecuting the 40-year-old mother of two for “disclosing state secrets abroad”.
A few days after Meng Wanzhou, then CFO of the Chinese telecommunications group Huawei, was arrested in Canada at the end of 2018, China detained two Canadians on charges of committing espionage.
Counselor Michael Spavor, who was eventually sentenced to 11 years in prison, as well as former diplomat Michael Kovrig, were released in 2021, hours after an agreement was reached for Ms Meng’s release.
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