Just a day after the Chinese Consulate in Houston was ordered closed by the US government, reports are surfacing that the Chinese may be harboring a fugitive scientist in their San Francisco consulate.
Tensions between the United States and China have continued to ratchet up following the forced closure by Washington of Beijing's consulate in Houston, amid revelations that federal prosecutors are seeking a Chinese scientist accused of visa fraud who they say is hiding out in China's consulate in San Francisco.
Prosecutors allege Tang Juan, a researcher focusing on biology, lied about her connection to the Chinese military in order to obtain entry into the US and has since avoided arrest by taking refuge in the West Coast diplomatic mission.
According to court filings, Tang was charged on June 26 with one count of visa fraud. Prosecutors said she concealed her connection to the country's military in her visa application, but investigators "discovered photographs of her in the uniform of the Civilian Cadre of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA)" and that she had been employed as a researcher at the Fourth Military Medical University (FMMU).
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," attorneys wrote in a July 20 court filing.
However, during a search of her residence and electronic media, FBI agents allegedly "found further evidence of Tang's PLA affiliation."
Following her interview with the bureau, Tang allegedly fled to the San Francisco consulate, "where the FBI assesses she has remained."
CNN has reached out to the US State Department, the Justice Department and the FBI for further comment. Separately, CNN has also reached out to China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The criminal complaint names several other Chinese scientists in the US. Prosecutors claim they are 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."
And from Axios:
A researcher who lied about her affiliation with a Chinese military university entered the Chinese consulate in San Francisco after being interviewed by the FBI on June 20 about alleged visa fraud and has remained there, according to an FBI assessment in court filings dated July 20.
Why it matters: Using a diplomatic facility to shelter someone charged with a federal crime could cause serious tension between the U.S. and China, especially as the U.S. is seeking to crack down on Chinese espionage and research theft.
"It is highly unusual for a Chinese diplomatic post to associate so closely with a suspect in an intellectual property theft-related case," said Minyao Wang, a New York-based lawyer who has worked on IP theft cases related to China.
"Sheltering a defendant in a criminal case by using the diplomatic immunity of a consular building, if true, is really extraordinary."
Context: On July 21, the U.S. told China that it must close its Houston consulate within 72 hours.
State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said the move was intended to "protect American intellectual property and American’s private information."
Details: According to documents filed on July 20 in the San Francisco division of the U.S. district court for the Northern District of California, Tang Juan came to the U.S. on a J-1 visa and was a researcher at the University of California, Davis.
On her visa application, Tang stated that she did not have any affiliation with the People's Liberation Army (PLA), the Chinese military.
But an investigation revealed that she worked at the Air Force Military Medical University (FMMU), a PLA-affiliated university in China, and she is considered to be active military personnel.
After obtaining a warrant, the FBI searched her home and found evidence of her affiliation with the PLA.
On June 26, Tang was charged with visa fraud.
Tang appears to have taken refuge inside the San Francisco consulate.
Federal prosecutors wrote 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," according to court filings.
"As the Tang case demonstrates, the Chinese consulate in San Francisco provides a potential safe harbor for a PLA official intent on avoiding prosecution in the United States," prosecutors stated.
What they're saying: "We made the Chinese government aware that she is a charged individual, so it unquestionable that they know the defendant is a fugitive from Justice," a Department of Justice official told Axios.
The Chinese embassy in Washington, DC and the Chinese consulate in San Francisco did not respond to a request for comment.
The State Department declined to comment.
The big picture: Federal prosecutors believe this isn't an isolated case.
Tang's case is listed among several similar recent ones that appear "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 court filing states.
At least one among this group of cases involved a military scientist who had allegedly been directed by military superiors to steal information from a U.S. institution.
In other cases, the Chinese government directed military scientists to destroy evidence, and had helped them leave the U.S, according to court filings.
While Joe Biden famously wrote off the threat posed by the Chinese Dictatorship, the Trump Administration is bringing the very real danger posed by them to the forefront.
As we draw closer to the election, an alarming amount of information is being exposed which proves just how embedded nefarious elements of the Chinese government are in our society.
They are not here to promote bilateralism or cultural exchanges, they are here to steal, manipulate, and profiteer off of American society.