Chinese officials warned their US counterparts as early as the summer that they might detain Americans in China if the US does not stop prosecuting Chinese academics linked to the Chinese military, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported on Saturday, citing people familiar with the matter.
China sent repeated warnings through multiple channels, including the US embassy in Beijing, the report said.
The message has been blunt: The US should drop prosecutions of the Chinese academics in US courts, or Americans in China might find themselves in violation of Chinese law, the newspaper cited sources as saying.
The US has charged several Chinese scientists who were conducting research at US universities with concealing ties to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.
The prosecutions have become a flash point of tension between the US and China, which have since closed each other’s diplomatic missions in Houston, Texas, and Chengdu in Sichuan Province.
The arrests were the subject of a WSJ article that also reported US allegations that Chinese diplomats were coordinating activities with the researchers, and described that as a factor in ordering China to close its Houston consulate in July and remove the remaining military scientists from the country.
A US Department of State spokesman declined to address the specifics of the newspaper report, the paper said.
“We are aware that the Chinese government has, in other instances, detained American, Canadian and other individuals without legal basis to retaliate against lawful prosecutions and to exert pressure on their governments, with a callous disregard of the individuals involved,” the newspaper quoted US Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers as saying.
The Hill newspaper in Washington quoted a department spokesman as saying: “We warn US citizens that business disputes, court orders to pay a settlement, or government investigations into both criminal and civil issues may result in an exit ban which will prohibit your departure from China until the issue is resolved.”
“Even individuals and their family members who are not directly involved, or even aware of these proceedings, can be subject to an exit ban,” the spokesperson added.
In a Sept. 14 update to its travel advisories for China and Hong Kong, the department urged US citizens to reconsider travel to those areas “due to COVID-19 and risk due to arbitrary enforcement of local laws.”
The advisory also warned that Chinese government officials might detain citizens of other nations in an effort “to gain bargaining leverage over foreign governments.”
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