October 27, 2020

Chinese researcher is sheltering in Beijing’s San Francisco consulate, US says

Issued on: 23/07/2020 – 17:35

A Chinese researcher is sheltering at Beijing’s consulate in San Francisco and the FBI has arrested three Chinese nationals for visa fraud, the US Justice Department said Thursday, adding that all four are believed to have been members of China’s military posing as researchers.

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The FBI has recently interviewed visa holders believed to be members of the Chinese military in more than 25 US cities, the department said.

Juan Tang, the researcher whom the department believes has taken refuge in the San Francisco consulate, lied about her affiliation to China’s Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA) in a visa application last October in order to work at the University of California, Davis, and lied again during an FBI interview last month, according to a Justice Department criminal complaint that charges her with visa fraud.

Agents found photographs of Tang in a uniform of the PLA’s civilian cadre and news articles from China that identified her military affiliation.

When the FBI interviewed Tang, she denied having served in the military or knowing the significance of the insignia of her uniform.

Agents found more evidence of her military affiliation when they later searched her home, according to the department’s criminal complaint.

“The FBI assesses that, at some point following the search and interview of Tang on June 20, 2020, Tang went to the Chinese consulate in San Francisco, where the FBI assesses she has remained,” prosecutors wrote in a July 20 court filing that seeks the detention of another Chinese scientist who the Justice Department says lied about his military background to get into the US.

US orders Chinese consulate in Houston to close

The allegation comes amid rising US-China tensions. Earlier this week, the US ordered the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston, and the Justice Department charged two Chinese hackers with targeting firms working on vaccines for the coronavirus.

On Tuesday night, Houston authorities responded to reports of a fire at the Chinese consulate. Witnesses said that people were burning paper in what appeared to be trash cans, the Houston Chronicle reported, citing police.

“The United States will not tolerate [China’s] violations of our sovereignty and intimidation of our people, just as we have not tolerated (its) unfair trade practices, theft of American jobs, and other egregious behavior,” US State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said.

‘Breaking down the bridge of friendship’

China on Thursday slammed the “malicious slander” behind the consulate closure order, maintaining that its officials never operated outside ordinary diplomatic rules. 

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said the move against the consulate, the first one China opened in the US after the establishment of diplomatic ties in 1979, goes against the basic norms of international relations.

“This is breaking down the bridge of friendship between the Chinese and American people,” Wang told reporters at a daily briefing. 

He also warned that “China will surely take necessary measures to safeguard its legitimate rights and interests,” without providing details.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)