A Chinese man was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of spying for Beijing, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement. The arrest comes only days after warnings against growing Chinese influence abroad issued by CIA director Gina Haspel.
The statement added that 27-year-old Ji Chaoqun is accused of acting as an “illegal agent” at the direction of a “high-level intelligence officer” of China’s top espionage agency, the Ministry of State Security.
Ji was reportedly tasked with recruiting new Chinese spies, especially individuals working for U.S. defense contractors. The Chinese national, who is a student of electrical engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, was part of a U.S. Army Reserves program where foreign nationals with skills considered to be “vital to the national interest” are recruited.
CNN writes that army intelligence “provided valuable assistance” in charging Ji who could face a 10-year imprisonment should he be charged with being an illegal foreign agent.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry denied knowledge of the arrest which followed comments by Haspel that the CIA would focus more on nation state rivals, which clearly referred to China. China is “working to diminish U.S. influence in order to advance their own goals,” the CIA boss said in a speech at the University of Louisville.
The development strained tensions between the United States and China, already embroiled in an escalating trade war. But even without the trade conflict, the two nations have long accused each other of espionage. In June, former CIA case officer Kevin Mallory was found guilty of transmitting secret and top-secret documents to Chinese spies, which according to prosecutors was just one of many such cases.
“The People’s Republic of China has made a sophisticated and concerted effort to steal our nation’s secrets,” said assistant attorney general for national security John Demers.
For its part, the U.S. has also targeted China, recruiting spies and sources, but China has countered such efforts dismantling “(CIA’s) network of agents across the country and executing dozens of suspected U.S. spies.”