In a case that could worsen the deterioration in relations between Beijing and Washington during the past several years, China sentenced a 78-year-old American citizen to life in prison on espionage charges on Monday.
John Shing-Wan Leung, who also has permanent status in Hong Kong, faces several accusations, although they have not been made public.
According to a statement made by Suzhou’s intermediate court on its social media page, Leung was arrested on April 15, 2021, by the local office of China’s counterintelligence agency. He was detained after China closed its borders, tightened domestic travel restrictions, and instituted social controls to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Except for general allegations of infiltration, information collecting, and endangering national security, such investigations and trials are typically held secret.
As a result of disagreements over trade, technology, human rights, and China’s increasingly aggressive stance toward its territorial claims regarding Taiwan’s self-government and the South China Sea, relations between Washington and Beijing are at their lowest point in decades.
Due to conflicting messages from Beijing, high-level government visits have been postponed, and significant investments by American companies are being delayed.
The judgment is delivered as U.S. President Joe Biden will visit Papua New Guinea, an island nation in the Pacific where China has pushed to expand its economic, military, and diplomatic clout, after stopping in Hiroshima, Japan, for the summit of the Group of Seven major industrial nations. Following Beijing’s territorial gains, the United States and its Asia-Pacific allies increased their regional presence by providing investments and financial support that were competitive with those offered by China.
China, the second-largest economy in the world, is growing its infrastructure footprint in ports, railroads, and other areas from Europe to Southeast Asia and beyond.
Although the Suzhou court made no mention of a connection to the overall China-U.S. Spying accusations are very selective, supporting proof is not always available.
However, the authoritarian political structure of China and the Communist Party’s total control over the judicial system, civil society, and information freedom exclude calls for more information and legal appeals.
The U.S. Embassy in Beijing stated that it was aware of the situation but could not provide any information owing to privacy issues.
According to the embassy’s email statement, the safety and security of American people abroad is the Department of State’s top priority.
The sentence for Leung has not yet been announced by the government of Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
When it was restored to China, Hong Kong was assured that it would keep its financial, social, and political freedoms, but Beijing has reneged on that pledge.
As part of a campaign against foreign companies that offer sensitive economic data, Chinese national security officials have also conducted raids on the offices of foreign business consulting firms in Beijing and other cities.
As Xi Jinping’s administration tightens its control over the economy, pressure on foreign corporations doing business in China has increased.
That contrasts sharply with initiatives to entice foreign investors back after severe COVID-19 pandemic restrictions were eased at the beginning of the year.
Lengthy pre-trial detentions are common in China, where prosecutors have considerable latitude to detain suspects in national security situations, regardless of citizenship.
Yang Jun, a writer, and Cheng Lei, a former employee of China’s national broadcaster, have been detained since 2020 and 2019, respectively.
Chinese-born overseas nationals and those from Taiwan and Hong Kong are particularly under suspicion from the government, especially if they are connected to politics or have jobs in academia or publishing.
The party has launched numerous campaigns under Xi against what it claims are foreign attempts to undermine its authority, but it has not provided any supporting data.
Discussions of modern Chinese history, human rights, and concepts that might raise concerns about complete Communist Party control have been prohibited in universities.
In addition, Xi’s administration has adopted a tough stance in international affairs, most recently expelling a Canadian diplomat in retribution for Ottawa expelling a Chinese embassy employee suspected of threatening a member of the Canadian parliament and his family members residing in Hong Kong.