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Ji Chaoqun: Chinese engineer gets the “silent treatment” with 8-year sentence for espionage in US

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A Chinese engineer named Ji Chaoqun has been sentenced to eight years in jail for spying in the United States. The case is linked to Chinese efforts to steal aviation trade secrets. According to the US Department of Justice, Ji had identified scientists and engineers for potential recruitment. He also enlisted in the US Army Reserves and lied to recruiters. US authorities say that Ji worked under the direction of a key Chinese state intelligence unit.

Last September, he was convicted for acting as an agent of a foreign government without notifying the US attorney-general and for making false statements to the US Army. Ji had arrived in the US on a student visa a decade ago. He was accused of supplying information to the Jiangsu Province Ministry of State Security about eight individuals for possible recruitment. The individuals were all naturalized US citizens who were originally from China or Taiwan, with some working as US defense contractors.

In 2016, Ji enlisted in the US Army Reserves under a program that recruits foreign nationals with skills considered vital to national interest. He lied in his application and in an interview that he had not had contact with a foreign government within the past seven years. Ji was eventually arrested in September 2018 after he met with an undercover US law enforcement agent who posed as a representative of China’s Ministry of State Security.

During these meetings, Ji had explained that with his military identification he could visit and take photos of aircraft carriers. He added that once he obtained his US citizenship and security clearance, he would seek a job at the CIA, FBI or NASA. Ji intended to perform cybersecurity work at one of those agencies so that he would have access to all their databases, including ones that contain scientific research, according to US officials. Ji had received his orders from Xu Yanjun, a prominent MSS official who became the first ever Chinese intelligence officer extradited to the US for trial.

Last year Xu was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for plotting to steal trade secrets from US aviation and aerospace companies, including General Electric. This month, former General Electric employee Zheng Xiaoqing was given a two-year sentence in the US for passing confidential information from his employers to the Chinese government. The FBI director, Christopher Wray, has said that China aims to “ransack” the intellectual property of Western companies so it can speed up its own industrial development and eventually dominate key industries. China denies these allegations, claiming that Mr Wray has a “Cold War mentality.”

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