WASHINGTON — The Chinese consulate in San Francisco is harboring a Chinese researcher who lied about her military background, the Justice Department said Thursday as it announced charges against that scientist and three others accused of concealing their government ties.
The four researchers are accused of lying on applications to work in the United States about their status as members of the People’s Liberation Army, which is part of the Chinese military. All are charged with visa fraud.
The FBI, meanwhile, has interviewed visa holders in more than 25 American cities who are suspected of concealing their ties to the Chinese military. The Justice Department believes that the deception is part of an ongoing, government-sponsored effort to steal research and innovation from American universities for Beijing’s economic gain.
“This is another part of the Chinese Communist Party’s plan to take advantage of our open society and exploit academic institutions,” John Demers, the Justice Department’s top national security official, said in a statement.
The allegation comes amid rising tension between the US and China, particularly related to theft of intellectual property — including by Chinese researchers with military and government connections — for Beijing’s benefit. Just this week, the US ordered the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston, and the Justice Department charged two Chinese hackers with targeting firms working on vaccines for the Coronavirus.
Trump administration officials have escalated their public condemnations of China in the last several weeks, with speeches by FBI Director Chris Wray, Attorney General William Barr and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Three of the four defendants have been arrested. The FBI believes that the fourth, Tang Juan, has been harbored for weeks in the Chinese consulate in San Francisco. The Justice Department says the scientist, who is listed in some court filings as Juan Tang, lied about her military affiliation in a visa application last October as she made plans to work at the University of California, Davis and again during an FBI interview months later.