WASHINGTON • The FBI has interviewed visa holders in more than 25 American cities suspected of hiding their Chinese military memberships, the Justice Department said, as part of what experts called the biggest known crackdown on the theft of US know-how in more than 40 years of Sino-US relations.
Thursday’s announcement by the Justice Department will likely fuel tensions between the world’s two largest economies that have risen since the Trump administration ordered China to shutter its consulate in Houston, Texas.
The administration has intensified charges that China uses cyber operations and espionage to steal American technological, military and other know-how in a strategy to supplant the United States as the world’s leading financial and military power.
Beijing denies the allegations.
“These members of China’s People’s Liberation Army applied for research visas while hiding their true affiliation with the PLA,” the statement quoted Assistant Attorney-General John Demers as saying. “This is another part of the Chinese Communist Party’s plan to take advantage of our open society and exploit academic institutions.” The Chinese Embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Last month, Federal Bureau of Investigation director Christopher Wray said almost half of the nearly 5,000 counter-intelligence investigations the bureau is conducting involve China.
Experts called it the largest known crackdown on the theft of American intellectual property since the two nuclear-armed powers began the process that led to the establishment of diplomat relations in 1979.
The Justice Department said the FBI recently arrested three Chinese nationals for allegedly concealing their memberships in the People’s Liberation Army when applying for visas to conduct research at US academic institutions.