The first Chinese intelligence officer extradited to the United States and tried for attempting to steal trade secrets will spend 20 years in prison.
Xu Yanjun, a deputy division director at the Chinese Ministry of State Security, was arrested in April 2018 during a visit to Belgium to meet with an employee of a U.S. aviation company who had been working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Xu was convicted in November 2021 on two counts of attempting economic espionage, two counts of attempted theft of trade secrets and one count of conspiracy to commit trade secret theft.
Prosecutors have described Xu as a “card-carrying intelligence officer” for the Chinese government and said he was part of a multiyear effort to steal aviation technology from American companies.
According to court documents, Xu used a variety of aliases to contact ethnic Chinese employees at several companies and trick them into sharing “highly sensitive information.”
In 2017, Xu contacted an employee at GE Aviation, bringing him to China before setting up the meeting with him in Belgium to steal the technology behind GE’s exclusive composite aircraft engine fan.
Xu pleaded not guilty and, following his arrest, the Chinese government rejected the U.S. charges.
“The U.S. accusation is something made out of thin air,” foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters following the arrest.
A request by VOA to the Chinese Embassy in Washington for comment drew no immediate response.
U.S. officials praised the sentence, even though it was for five years less than prosecutors had requested.
“The historic sentencing of a Chinese government official for committing espionage against the United States is a significant achievement & should also serve as a warning to foreign governments that the U.S. will not tolerate this type of illegal activity,” FBI Special Agent J. William Rivers said in a statement posted to Twitter.
“For those who doubt the real goals of the PRC [People’s Republic of China], this should be a wakeup call,” FBI Assistant Director Alan Kohler said in a separate statement. “They are stealing American technology to benefit their economy and military.”
Also Wednesday, the U.S. revealed it had won a conviction against one of Xu’s U.S.-based agents.
Chinese national and former Chicago resident Ji Chaoqun, 31, was convicted this past September on charges he had conspired to act as an agent of the Chinese government without notifying the proper authorities and of making false statements to the U.S. Army.
U.S. prosecutors now say Ji met with Xu numerous times in China and was working at Xu’s direction to gather information on U.S.-based engineers and scientists, including some contracting for the U.S. military, for potential recruitment.
Ji, who also joined the U.S. Army under a program that recruits noncitizens with critical language skills, faces up to 15 years in prison.