China sentences 78-year-old US citizen to life in prison on espionage charges


China on Monday sentenced a 78-year-old US citizen to life in prison on espionage charges, in a case that reflected the deterioration of ties between Beijing and Washington in recent years.

Details of the charges against John Shing-Wan Leung, who has a permanent residence in Hong Kong, have not been made public.

Leung was detained on April 15, 2021 by the local office of China’s counterintelligence agency in the southeastern city of Suzhou, according to a press release posted by the city’s intermediate court on its website. social. His arrest came as China closed its borders and imposed strict domestic travel restrictions and social controls to combat the spread of Covid-19.

Such investigations and trials take place behind closed doors and little information is released apart from vague accusations of infiltration, secret-gathering, and threats to state security.

Relations between Washington and Beijing are at their lowest point in decades amid disputes over trade, technology, human rights and China’s increasingly aggressive approach to its territorial claims involving self-government Taiwan and the China Sea. Southern. High-level government visits have been suspended and American companies are delaying major investments amid mixed messages from Beijing.

The ruling comes as President Joe Biden heads to Hiroshima, Japan, for the Group of Seven Major Industrial Nations summit, followed by a visit to Papua New Guinea, a Pacific island nation in a region where China has sought to increase its economic power, military and diplomatic influence.

Following Beijing’s gains in the area, the US and its Asia-Pacific partners stepped up their regional presence, offering investment and financial support that rivals that provided by China.

Now the world’s second-largest economy, China is expanding its presence in ports, railways and other infrastructure from Europe to Southeast Asia and beyond.

While the Suzhou court offered no indication of a link to general Sino-US relations, the espionage charges are highly selective and no supporting evidence is released. That is standard practice among most countries, who want to secure their personal connections, networks, and access to information.

However, China’s authoritarian political system and the ruling Communist Party’s absolute control over legal affairs, civil society and freedom of information prevent demands for more information, as well as judicial appeals.

The US embassy had no immediate comment on Leung’s detention. The government of Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned to Chinese control in 1997, has also not ruled on the case.

When it was returned to China, Hong Kong was promised to maintain its financial, social and political freedoms, but Beijing has essentially thwarted that commitment since it cracked down on pro-democracy protesters and imposed a sweeping national security law. in 2020.

Chinese national security agencies have also raided the offices of foreign business consulting firms in Beijing and other cities as part of an ongoing crackdown on foreign companies providing sensitive economic data.

Foreign companies operating in China have come under increasing pressure as Xi Jinping’s government tightens control over the economy. That is in stark contrast to efforts to lure foreign investors after draconian Covid-19 pandemic restrictions were lifted earlier in the year.

Long pre-trial detentions are not unusual in China, and prosecutors have broad powers to detain defendants in national security cases, regardless of their citizenship status.

Two Chinese-Australians, Cheng Lei, who previously worked for China’s state broadcaster, and writer Yang Jun, have been detained since 2020 and 2019 respectively with no word on their sentence.

The government’s suspicion is especially focused on Chinese-born foreign nationals and people from Taiwan and Hong Kong, especially if they have political connections or work in academia or publishing.

Under Xi, the party has launched multiple campaigns against what it calls foreign efforts to sabotage his rule, without producing evidence. Universities have been ordered to censor discussions of human rights, modern Chinese history and ideas that might cast doubt on the Communist Party’s complete control.

Xi’s government has also taken a hard line on foreign relations, most recently ordering the release of a Canadian diplomat in retaliation for the expulsion from Ottawa of a Chinese embassy staffer accused of threatening a Canadian member of parliament and your family members living in Hong Kong.

That fits with Xi’s global confrontational stance that has seen China partner with Russia by accusing the West of provoking Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and trying to overthrow US-led liberal dominance in global affairs.

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