A 78-year-old U.S. citizen was sentenced to life in a Chinese prison on spying charges, according to a post on the city of Suzhou’s website.
John Shing-Wan Leung, who also holds a permanent residence in Hong Kong, was detained by China’s counterintelligence agency more than two years ago.
His detention came after China had closed its borders and imposed tight domestic travel restrictions and social controls to fight the spread of COVID-19.
Monday’s post in Jiangsu Province said Leung, suspected of espionage, was detained April 15, 2021.
Such investigations and trials are held behind closed doors and little information is generally released other than vague accusations of infiltration, gathering secrets, and threatening state security.
“After a trial in accordance with the law, the Suzhou Intermediate People’s Court issued a public verdict in the first instance on May 15, 2023,” the post said. “Liang Chengyun was found guilty of espionage, sentenced to life imprisonment, deprived of political rights for life, and confiscated personal property of RMB 500,000 [nearly $72,000].”
The U.S. Embassy in Beijing said it’s aware of the case, but could not comment further due to privacy concerns. “The Department of State has no greater priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas,” the embassy said in the emailed statement.
Relations between the U.S. and China are at their lowest in decades amid disputes over trade, technology, human rights, and Beijing’s’s increasingly aggressive approach toward its territorial claims involving self-governing Taiwan and the South China Sea.
Leung’s sentencing comes as President Joe Biden is traveling to Hiroshima, Japan, for the Group of Seven major industrial nations summit, followed by a visit to Papua New Guinea, a Pacific island nation in a region where China has sought to increase its economic, military, and diplomatic influence.
After Beijing’s gains in the area, the U.S. and its Asia-Pacific partners stepped up their regional presence, offering investments and financial support rivaling those furnished by China.
Chinese-Australians Cheng Lei, who formerly worked for China’s state broadcaster, and writer Yang Jun have been held since 2020 and 2019, respectively, without word on their sentencing.
Government suspicion is particularly focused on Chinese-born foreign citizens and people from Taiwan and Hong Kong, especially if they have political contacts or work in academia or publishing.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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