China Harboring Military-Linked Biologist Fugitive at San Francisco Consulate, FBI Says

Chinese and US national flags
Chinese and US national flags flutter at the entrance of a company office building in Beijing. (Photo: Wang Zhao | AFP | Getty Images)

The Chinese consulate in San Francisco is harboring a biology researcher who falsely denied connections to the Chinese military to obtain a visa and gain access to the country, according to court documents filed by the FBI.

The filing came as part of a document that cited a slew of other episodes in which Chinese nationals allegedly lied on their visa applications by hiding their military connections. Axios’ Bethany Allen-Abrahimian broke the story.

Tang Juan, a researcher at the University of California, Davis, stated on her J-1 visa application that she “had never served in the military, but open source investigation revealed photographs of her in the uniform of the Civilian Cadre of the PLA [People’s Liberation Army], and that she had been employed as a researcher at the Air Force Military Medical University, which is another name for FMMU [Fourth Military Medical University],” the FBI claimed.

Then, during an interview with FBI agents on June 20, Tang “denied serving in the Chinese military, claimed she did not know the meaning of the insignia on her uniform, and that wearing a military uniform was required for attendance at FMMU because it was a military school.”

The FBI revealed it then executed a search warrant immediately at Tang’s home and found additional evidence of Tang’s PLA affiliation.

“The FBI assesses that, at some point following the search and interview of Tang on June 20, 2020, Tang went to the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco, where the FBI assesses she has remained,” the bureau announced.

There existed evidence in at least one case “of a military scientist copying or stealing information from American institutions at the direction of military superiors in China,” the bureau went on. The court documents contained similar evidence against several other Chinese scientists.

Chen Song, for example, was an “active duty People’s Liberation Army military scientist who lied to get into the United States, attempted to destroy evidence and lied extensively to the FBI when interviewed,” the government wrote in charging documents.

“Defendant’s case is not an isolated one, but instead appears to be part of a program conducted by the PLA—and specifically, FMMU or associated institutions—to send military scientists to the United States on false pretenses with false covers or false statements about their true employment,” the FBI said, referring to Chen Song. Another case involves a suspected spy working for UCSF.

Meanwhile, the United States ordered China to close its consulate in Houston, escalating tensions between the world’s largest economies as President Trump has ramped up punitive measures against China ahead of the November U.S. election. Beijing denounced the order Wednesday as “outrageous” and claimed it would draw a firm response if not reversed.

The physical closure of the consulate, one of China’s six missions in the United States, marked a dramatic step in increasingly contentious relations that have been strained not only by the coronavirus pandemic but also by disputes over trade, human rights, Hong Kong and Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea.

Previous Trump administration measures against Chinese officials, students and researchers have included travel bans, registration requirements and other steps intended to reduce the country’s footprint in the United States. The administration also has announced its outright rejection of virtually all Chinese maritime claims in the South China Sea.

These actions have come as Trump has sought to blame China for the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., where cases have soared. Trump himself said more closures could be coming if China didn’t change its behavior. “It’s always possible,” he told reporters at the White House.

The State Department announced it ordered the consulate closed within 72 hours after alleging that Chinese agents have tried to steal data from facilities in Texas, including the Texas A&M medical system statewide and The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

There were indications consulate staff were preparing to leave: Papers were being burned on the consulate grounds late Tuesday night — a common practice when a diplomatic post is being shuttered on short notice.

Cai Wei, the Chinese consul general, told KTRK-TV in Houston the order to shut down was “quite wrong” and “very damaging” to U.S.-China relations.

Asked about accusations of espionage and stealing data, Cai said, “You have to give some evidence, say something from the facts. … Knowing Americans, you have the rule of law, you are not guilty until you are proved guilty.”

State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement that the closure was “to protect American intellectual property and Americans’ private information.”

“The United States will not tolerate (China’s) violations of our sovereignty and intimidation of our people, just as we have not tolerated (China’s) unfair trade practices, theft of American jobs, and other egregious behavior,” she said.

Testifying before Congress on Wednesday, Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun lamented that relations today have been “weighed down by a growing number of disputes,” including commercial espionage, intellectual property theft and unequal treatment of diplomats, businesses and journalists.

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