A Chinese court said it sentenced a 78-year-old American citizen to life in prison on Monday on unspecified charges of spying, the latest in a wave of espionage cases the authorities have pursued amid growing wariness of foreign influence in the country.
The Intermediate People’s Court in the southeastern city of Suzhou said in a short statement that it pronounced John Shing-Wan Leung guilty of espionage and sentenced him. It said that Mr. Leung was arrested in April 2021 by state security officials, but provided no details about the charges or the circumstances of his detention or trial. The court also ordered about $70,000 worth of his personal property to be seized.
Mr. Leung holds a United States passport and is a permanent resident of Hong Kong, according to the statement posted on the court’s social media account.
The court in Suzhou did not respond to multiple requests for comment. A spokesman for the United States Embassy in Beijing said the embassy was aware of the reports about the case but declined to comment because of privacy concerns. American citizens arrested in China must sign a privacy waiver to allow embassies and consulates to release information about their cases to the public.
Trials in China on charges of espionage or other sensitive political issues are often shrouded in secrecy, with proceedings closed to the public and the news media. Courts are controlled by the ruling Communist Party.
China has recently stepped up actions against what it sees as a growing threat of spies through a wave of raids, inspections and arrests targeting businesses with foreign ties as well as individuals.
In March, Beijing detained a Japanese business executive from a pharmaceutical company for espionage. Last year, the authorities arrested a high-ranking editor of a Chinese Communist Party newspaper while he was having lunch with a Japanese diplomat, accusing the editor of acting as an agent for Japan or the United States, his family says.
Chinese officials have raided the offices or interrogated the staff of American consulting firms such as the Mintz Group and Bain & Company. Most recently, state media announced a crackdown on the consulting industry in the name of national security, singling out Capvision Partners, a consulting firm with offices in New York and Shanghai. In describing the crackdown, China’s state broadcaster CCTV accused Western countries of stealing intelligence in key industries, including defense, finance, energy and health, as part of a “strategy of containment and suppression against China.”
Last month, China approved revisions to a counterespionage law that expanded the kinds of activities that could land foreigners behind bars. Experts say that the amendments, which go into effect in July, could criminalize a range of mundane tasks related to information gathering such as the work of journalists and due diligence research on companies. Foreign businesses have already begun to reassess their operations in China and increase protections for employees.