A 78-year-old American, a permanent resident of Hong Kong, was sentenced Monday in China to life in prison for “espionage”, which is expected to further strain Beijing-Washington relations already at rock bottom.
Such a heavy sentence aimed at a foreign citizen on this ground is relatively rare in the Asian country.
This announcement comes against the backdrop of a trip to Japan by US President Joe Biden, who is due to participate in the G7 summit in Hiroshima from May 19 to 21.
John Shing-wan Leung, also known as Liang Chengyun, “was guilty of espionage and was sentenced to life imprisonment as well as lifetime deprivation of political rights”, said on Monday in a statement the Suzhou Intermediate People’s Court.
His personal property was also confiscated to the tune of 500,000 yuan (97,000 Canadian dollars) during this first instance trial which was held on Monday, presumably behind closed doors, as is usually the case in this type of case. business.
State security authorities had taken “coercive measures” against this American citizen as early as 2021, according to the press release, a formulation which generally refers to detention.
The press release does not mention the precise nature of the charges against John Shing-wan Leung, nor what his profession or activity was in China, nor even where he was when he was arrested.
A spokesperson for the US embassy in Beijing told AFP that they are aware of reports that a US citizen was sentenced in Suzhou.
“The Department of State has no higher priority than the safety and security of American citizens abroad,” the embassy said. “For reasons of confidentiality, we have no further comments to make. »
In Hong Kong, where John Shing-wan Leung was a permanent resident, security chief Chris Tang told reporters on Monday that city authorities had been notified by mainland China of his arrest in 2021.
“Hong Kong police have taken follow-up action in accordance with this notification,” he said, declining to give further details.
Asked Monday during a regular press briefing, a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined to provide further details.
The sentencing of John Shing-wan Leung risks further damaging Sino-American relations.
They have been tense in recent years due to disagreements on many subjects: the trade imbalance, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Beijing’s treatment of its Uighur Muslim minority, rivalry in the technology sector or the Chinese balloons affair in FEBRUARY.
At the end of April, the Chinese Parliament adopted amendments to the national anti-espionage law, which now more explicitly prohibits the transfer outside China of any information related to national security and broadens the notion of espionage.
Foreigners are routinely accused in China of espionage or similar charges.
In February, a Japanese man was sentenced to 12 years in prison for espionage, according to Japanese news agency Kyodo News.
Chinese-Australian writer Yang Jun was arrested in January 2019 for the same reason.
Canberra had called last week for the release of Australian journalist Cheng Lei, who had been in detention for more than 1,000 days and who worked on the Chinese public channel in English CGTN.
This 40-year-old mother of two is being prosecuted by Beijing for “disclosing state secrets abroad”.
A few days after the arrest in Canada at the end of 2018 of Meng Wanzhou, then financial director of the Chinese telecoms group Huawei, China had detained two Canadians, accused of acts of espionage.
The consultant Michael Spavor, finally sentenced to 11 years in prison, as well as the ex-diplomat Michael Kovrig, were then released in 2021, a few hours after the conclusion of an agreement on the release of Mme Meng.