Chinese officials are warning the U.S. government that continuing to prosecute immigrant scholars over illicit ties to the Chinese military will place Americans in China at risk of retribution.
Members of the Chinese government have been passing messages along to American officials since the summer, warning them that a continued Department of Justice crackdown against Chinese scholars in the United States will eventually result in the Chinese government arresting Americans in China, sources familiar with the messages told The Wall Street Journal. The Chinese threat has been dubbed “hostage diplomacy.”
China has long been accused of engaging in such tactics for years, arresting foreigners on charges that the prisoners’ home countries say are fabricated. In some cases, the arrests are made as Beijing is involved with some sort of negotiation with the prisoners’ home government. In others, the people arrested have made statements or acts seemingly at odds with the Chinese Communist Party.
In February, Swedish citizen and Hong Kong-based bookseller Gui Minhai was sentenced to a decade in prison for “illegally providing intelligence overseas,” a charge disputed by human rights group Amnesty International and the Swedish government. American Mark Swidan has been held in China since 2012 when he was arrested on drug trafficking charges. China justice system monitors say drug charges, in particular, are faked by the Chinese government in order to detain people for political reasons.
The U.S. government has been arresting and prosecuting Chinese scholars visiting American universities for allegedly lying on their immigration forms and hiding ties to the People’s Liberation Army, China’s military. The prosecutions are part of a larger effort by the Trump administration to crack down on China’s influence on college campuses.
Federal prosecutors have also targeted academics who are taking part in China’s Thousand Talents Program, which pays grants to researchers with the stipulation that they keep the payments hidden. The grant program also encourages recipients to build closer ties with China.
In September, the Department of State issued a travel advisory warning Americans from taking trips to China or Hong Kong, which lost its status as an independent state after China enforced strict regulations over the city.
“The [People’s Republic of China (PRC)] government arbitrarily enforces local laws, including by carrying out arbitrary and wrongful detentions and through the use of exit bans on U.S. citizens and citizens of other countries without due process of law,” the advisory says, adding that China may make unjust arrests “to gain bargaining leverage over foreign governments.”
“U.S. citizens traveling or residing in the PRC or Hong Kong, may be detained without access to U.S. consular services or information about their alleged crime. U.S. citizens may be subjected to prolonged interrogations and extended detention without due process of law,” the advisory says.
When asked about China potentially holding Americans “hostage” over the United States’ crackdown on Chinese influence, the State Department declined to comment on the report directly.
“We warn U.S. 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,” a spokesman told The Wall Street Journal.