The United States has charged a Chinese spy with trying to steal trade secrets from some of the country's top aviation and aerospace companies.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced Wednesday that Yanjun Xu had been arrested on April 1 in Belgium, which then extradited him to the U.S. on Tuesday. Xu, who appeared Wednesday in federal court in Cincinnati, was indicted by a federal grand jury in the Southern District of Ohio.
Experts believe this is the first time a Chinese government spy has been brought to the United States to stand trial.
“This unprecedented extradition of a Chinese intelligence officer exposes the Chinese government's direct oversight of economic espionage against the United States,” Assistant Director Bill Priestap of the FBI's Counterintelligence Division said.
The DOJ said Xu is a top member of the Ministry of State Security — the Chinese intelligence agency whose members have permission to spy in China and around the world.
U.S. Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers said this case is not an isolated incident.
“It is part of an overall economic policy of developing China at American expense,” Demers said. “We cannot tolerate a nation’s stealing our firepower and the fruits of our brainpower. We will not tolerate a nation that reaps what it does not sow.”
According to the charges, in 2017 Xu recruited experts who work for U.S. aerospace companies inside and outside the United States to travel to China under the pretense of lecturing at universities. China paid for the travel and also gave the experts a fee.
According to The Washington Post, U.S. agents lured Xu to Belgium, where he was arrested. The newspaper, citing an FBI affidavit, said Xu tried to convince one of the experts to share corporate documents that he had brought with him as part of his planned university lecture.
A spokesman for one of the targeted companies, General Electric Aviation, said “the impact to GE Aviation is minimal, thanks to early detection, our advanced digital systems and internal processes, and our partnership with the FBI.”
There has been no comment so far from China.
If tried and convicted, Xu faces up to 25 years in prison and a fine.