China says accusations against alleged spy ‘made out of thin air’

First time an alleged Chinese intelligence officer has been extradited to US

China has rejected US espionage accusations against an alleged Chinese intelligence officer who was extradited from Belgium as "made out of thin air" and urged the US to deal with the matter "in accordance with the law".

The US justice department said on Wednesday it had arrested and charged Xu Yanjun, an operative it believed was working for China's ministry of state security, on charges of economic espionage and attempting to steal trade secrets from several US aviation and aerospace companies, including GE Aviation.

“The US accusation is something made out of thin air,” foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular news briefing. “We hope the US side can deal with this fairly and in accordance with law.”

The case is likely to add to tensions between the world's two largest economies, already strained by an intensifying trade war, accusations of cyberwarfare, and rising political and military tensions over the South China Sea and self-ruled Taiwan.


Accused of meddling

In a speech last week, US vice-president Mike Pence accused China of trying to meddle in the US midterm elections and undermine President Donald Trump.

Mr Xu was indicted in Cincinnati, Ohio. According to the indictment from the justice department, Mr Xu had plotted since 2013 to obtain trade secrets from major aerospace companies, persuading them to travel to China to give presentations at a university. However the trips were in fact attempts to glean secrets, the department said.

The justice department said Mr Xu was a senior intelligence officer from the state security ministry in Jiangsu province.

Mr Xu was apparently lured to Belgium in a counterintelligence operation where he was arrested under a US warrant on April 1st. It marks the first time an alleged Chinese intelligence agent has been extradited from another country.

Mr Xu is the second Chinese national to be charged with attempting to steal aviation industry secrets and the cases appear to be linked.

Ji Chaoqun, a US army reservist, was arrested in Chicago and charged with acting as an illegal foreign agent. He was accused with attempting to steal aviation industry secrets and working for a “high-ranking intelligence officer from the Jiangsu state security ministry”.

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan, an Irish Times contributor, spent 15 years reporting from Beijing