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U.S. charges Chinese researcher with lying, as tensions rise

Prosecutors say Tang Juan lied on her visa application about ties to the Chinese military and Communist Party.
Image: The University of California, Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, Calif.
The University of California, Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, Calif. Rich Pedroncelli / AP file

Federal prosecutors have charged a Chinese cancer researcher at the University of California, Davis, with lying about her ties to the Chinese military and Communist Party when seeking a visa to come to the U.S. The FBI believes she is evading arrest by staying at China's consulate in San Francisco.

The charges come amid worsening U.S.-China tensions and follows the State Department's decision Wednesday to close China’s consulate in Houston.

Image: Tang Juan in military uniform.
Tang Juan in military uniform.

Photos accompanying an affidavit for an arrest warrant recently unsealed by a federal judge show the researcher, Tang Juan, in military uniform prior to her move to the United States. Chinese officials did not immediately respond to news of the charges.

Federal prosecutors on Monday announced similar charges against Song Chen, a Stanford University researcher also accused of lying about his ties to the Chinese military.

Prosecutors allege that Tang — who was issued a visa in November and arrived at San Francisco’s international airport on Dec. 27 — answered “no” when asked if she had ever served in the military or been a member of the Communist Party. The affidavit presents evidence that Tang is in fact a member of China’s ruling Communist Party and a member of the military.

It's estimated that there are close to 100 million Communist Party members in China.

Upon questioning by federal agents on June 20, the affidavit alleges that Tang denied having ever served in the military, but agents later found further photos resembling her in military uniform, as well as an application for state benefits where Tang listed her status as a Communist Party member. Following that questioning, the FBI believes Tang went to the Chinese consulate in San Francisco, where it says she remains.

The U.S. has repeatedly claimed that China is involved in stealing American intellectual property, including medical research. China denies the allegations.

State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said Wednesday that the U.S. had ordered the closing of the Chinese consulate in Houston to "protect American intellectual property and Americans' private information."

On Tuesday, the Justice Department also announced an indictment charging two Chinese nationals — both in China — with hacking private companies, including those engaged in COVID-19 vaccine research.

Tensions between the two superpowers have been rising sharply in recent months over trade, Hong Kong, China’s claims on the South China Sea as well as human rights abuses against China’s ethnic Uighur population.

President Donald Trump has further angered Beijing by blaming the coronavirus pandemic on China and referring to COVID-19 as the "China virus" and "kung flu."