A Chinese military officer was arrested while trying to leave the US on Sunday with government-funded research from University of California, and has been charged with visa fraud, the US Department of Justice said on Thursday.
According to the FBI’s criminal complaint, Xin Wang holds a position in the People’s Liberation Army that “roughly corresponds with the level of major” and continues to be paid by the PLA.
That position differs from what Wang stated on his visa application in 2018, which said the purpose of his visit was to conduct scientific research at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), the complaint said, adding that Wang “stated that he intentionally made false statements about his military service in his visa application in order to increase the likelihood that he would receive his … visa”.
When he applied for his US visa, Wang said he had served as an associate professor in medicine in the PLA from 2002 to 2016, it said.
As Wang prepared to depart from Los Angeles International Airport on a flight to Tianjin, he told US customs agents that he “had been instructed by his supervisor, the director of his military university lab in [China], to observe the layout of the UCSF lab and bring back information on how to replicate it in China”, according to a justice department announcement.
US customs officials “received information that Wang had studies from UCSF with him which he was taking to share with his PLA colleagues, and he had sent research to his lab in China via email”, it said.
Some of the UCSF research Wang had in his possession was funded by grants from the US Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, the justice department said.
He also deleted WeChat messaging content from his mobile phone before arriving at the airport for his departure, it said.
Citing national security concerns, the US government has been trying to crack down on academic ties between American research institutions and China’s military.
On May 29, US President Donald Trump announced that graduate students and visiting researchers from China would be barred entry to the US if they were seen to posing a risk of transferring technical knowledge to the Chinese military institutions.
The proclamation, which took effect on June 1, does not list specific institutions that would disqualify applicants, leaving the decisions to the state department.
However, the FBI complaint against Wang does not charge him with any crime related to the research he had in his possession or that he emailed to China.
The complaint was initially kept under seal because making it public “would seriously jeopardise the investigation; as such, a disclosure would give the target an opportunity to destroy evidence, change patterns of behaviour, notify confederates, or flee from prosecution”.
Wang faces up to 10 years in prison and a US$250,000 fine if found guilty.
China’s foreign ministry said on Friday that Wang had been conducting cardiovascular research in the US and had not caused any harm to America’s national interests.
Beijing had received multiple complaints from Chinese nationals recently about being arbitrarily interrogated by US border law enforcement as they were leaving the country, ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.
“Some of them had their electronic devices confiscated without proper grounds,” she said.
“I think these are all blatant infringement of the rights of Chinese nationals in the US and the purpose is to demonise China.”
Additional reporting by Jun Mai
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