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Chinese official charged with espionage against aviation companies

13 October 2018

The arrest comes as Donald Trump has escalated his bellicose language against China amid a burgeoning trade war and deteriorating relations.

Last week, Vice President Pence accused the Chinese of trying to orchestrate "the wholesale theft of American technology". "But we can not tolerate a nation stealing our firepower and the fruits of our brainpower. We will not tolerate a nation that reaps what it does not sow", he said.

Yanjin Xu, a senior operative with China's Minister of State Security, was arrested in Belgium on April 1 and extradited to the US on Tuesday, the release said.

Xu, a senior officer with China's Ministry of State Security (MSS), appeared in federal court in Cincinnati on Wednesday, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported.

Benjamin Glassman, U.S. attorney for Ohio's southern district, said no military information was targeted, but any attempt by other countries to "grow companies at America's expense" is considered a threat to national security.

The Ministry of State Security is China's intelligence and security agency and is responsible for counterintelligence, foreign intelligence and political security. Xu is a deputy division director with the organisation's Jiangsu provincial division.

"This unprecedented extradition of a Chinese intelligence officer exposes the Chinese government's direct oversight of economic espionage against the United States", said Federal Bureau of Investigation assistant director Bill Priestap. "It significantly raises the stakes for China and is a part of the deterrence program that some people thought would never be possible".

The indictment alleges that Xu Yanjun, who was extradited to the United States from Belgium on 9 October, targeted aerospace companies, including GE Aviation, from at least December 2013 until his arrest in Belgium on 1 April.

Xu remained in contact with the employee, and in February requested that the employee send specific proprietary information as well as a list of technical topics regarding composite materials in engine fan blades developed by GE Aviation, according to court papers.

Xu recruited the experts to travel to China, often under the guise of asking them to deliver a university presentation and passing himself off as an official with the Jiangsu Science and Technology Promotion Association [JAST].

Ji targeted individuals in science and tech industries, seven of whom worked for or recently retired from US defense contractors, authorities said. The university has significant influence over China's aerospace industry. He reportedly tried to steal trade secrets from GE Aviation.

According to prosecutors in OH on Wednesday, since 2013 Xu has lured eggheads from three aerospace companies in America to China by inviting them to give university presentations in the Middle Kingdom.

Concerns about Chinese espionage were echoed in the US Treasury department's announcement on Wednesday that the federal government will tighten rules on foreign investment in high tech industries including aviation next month. "Engineers are working hard to resolve the issue fully".

While the U.S. government has in the past charged Chinese officials with similar offenses, this is the first time they have done so publicly with an individual in custody.

Ji targeted individuals in science and tech industries, seven of whom worked for or recently retired from USA defense contractors.

The two have also feuded over U.S. support for Taiwan, Chinese weapons purchases from Russian Federation and China's territorial claims in the South China Sea - where the U.S. says a Chinese destroyer came aggressively close to a U.S. Navy ship late last month, forcing it to maneuver to prevent a collision.

Chinese official charged with espionage against aviation companies