Juan Tang is accused of lying about links to China military, amid tensions between Washington and Beijing after US orders Houston consulate to close
A Chinese researcher charged with lying to the FBI about her military affiliation has taken refuge in China’s San Francisco consulate, according to court documents, further escalating tensions between Washington and Beijing.
The standoff in San Francisco comes at the same time the US ordered the closure of China’s Houston consulate, on grounds of involvement in theft of “American intellectual property and private information”.
China called the closure “unprecedented” and an “outrageous” escalation, and threatened retaliation, with state media putting out a poll asking which US consulates should be closed.
Donald Trump said in response to a question at a Wednesday night briefing that the closure of more consulates was “always possible”.
The researcher, Juan Tang, is named in a prosecutorial memo filed on Monday at the federal district court in San Francisco calling for the continued detention of another Chinese researcher at Stanford who is also charged with lying about links to China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on her visa application.
Tang is accused of claiming never to have served in the PLA on her visa application, when an open-source investigation allegedly unearthed a picture of her in the uniform of the PLA’s civilian cadre and further evidence she had been a researcher for the Air Force Military Medical University. In an interview with the FBI on 20 June, according to the document, she claimed not to recognise the insignia on the uniform she is wearing in the photo.
“That same day, FBI executed a search warrant of Tang’s residence, and a search of her electronic media found further evidence of Tang’s PLA affiliation,” the memo, first reported by the Axios news site, said. “The FBI assesses that at some point following the search and interview of Tang on June 29, 2020, Tang went to the Chinese consulate in San Francisco, where the FBI assesses she has remained.”
In the memo two other Chinese nationals with PLA links are alleged to have come to California as researchers on false pretences, with the aim of intellectual property theft from US universities. It said Tang’s flight to the San Francisco consulate and the other cases – where the accused allegedly deleted files on hard disks and smartphones – showed that Beijing was “intent on protecting its officials from prosecution in the United States”.
In Houston, fire services were called after smoke was seen rising from the compound. US officials said staff, who were given 72 hours to leave the country, were burning documents in its grounds.
A Republican senator claimed that the consulate, which covered several southern states, was an “espionage hub”.
It remains unclear what triggered the Houston closure. During a visit to Denmark on Wednesday, the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, suggested the move reflected a US decision to be less tolerant of Chinese behaviour.
“President Trump has said ‘enough’. We’re not going to allow this to continue to happen,” Pompeo said. “We are setting out clear expectations for how the Chinese Communist party is going to behave.”
On Wednesday, Chinese state media suggested the possibility of closing US consulates, posting a poll on Twitter asking users to choose between missions in Hong Kong, Chengdu, Guangzhou and others.
The Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Wang Wenbin, criticised the Houston closure on Wednesday, saying: “China strongly condemns such an outrageous and unjustified move, which will sabotage China-US relations. “We urge the US to immediately withdraw its erroneous decision, otherwise China will make legitimate and necessary reactions.”