Researcher who took refuge at China’s consulate is in US custody

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A Chinese researcher who took refuge from United States authorities at China’s consulate in San Francisco is now in American custody and is expected to appear in court on Friday, a senior US Justice Department official has said.

According to court filings in the US District Court in San Francisco this week, Juan Tang, who worked at the University of California, Davis, falsely claimed on her visa application she had not served in the Chinese military. She was charged with visa fraud on June 26. 

The Justice Department official told reporters Tang was arrested on Thursday night and did not have diplomatic immunity as she was not declared a diplomatic official.

“She’ll make her initial appearance in court later today,” he said on Friday, alleging Tang was part of a network of associates who concealed their military affiliation when applying for visas.

The department also announced criminal charges against three other Chinese researchers, named Xin Wang, Chen Song and Kaikai Zhao, according to a statement issued on Thursday.

“These members of China’s People Liberation Army applied for research visas while hiding their true affiliation with the PLA,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C Demers said in Thursday’s statement. “This is another part of the Chinese Communist Party’s plan to take advantage of our open society and exploit academic institutions. We will continue to conduct this investigation together with the FBI.”

The US Department of Justice building in Washington, US [Mary F Calvert/Reuters] 

Each of the four Chinese nationals allegedly made fraudulent statements on their US visa application. Both Tang and Zhao answered “no” to the question, “Have you ever served in the military?”, the Justice Department’s document said. Both Wang and Song stated their employment by the Chinese military had ended while US officials contend they remain in service.

Each defendant has been charged with visa fraud, and if convicted, faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000, the Justice Department said.

The Chinese embassy has not commented on the case.

Chinese-US relations have soured amid a mounting array of conflicts including trade, the handling of the coronavirus pandemic, technology, spying accusations, Hong Kong and allegations of abuses against Chinese Muslims.

Also on Friday, the US State Department sent out a notice warning Americans in China of a “heightened risk of arbitrary detention”.

“US citizens may be subjected to prolonged interrogations and extended detention for reasons related to ‘state security’,” the notice said.

Americans may be arrested or deported for “sending private electronic messages critical” of the Chinese government, it said. The notice gave no indication of what prompted the warning.

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