China sentences a 78-year-old US citizen to life in prison for espionage

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Jun Cheng Wan Leung had permanent residence in Hong Kong, but it was not clear where he was living when he was arrested (file photo)

A Chinese court has sentenced a 78-year-old US citizen to life in prison for espionage.

Jun Cheng Wan Leung, a permanent resident of Hong Kong, was imprisoned on Monday.

The court in the southeastern city of Suzhou did not provide further details on the allegations against him.

A press release from the court said that the local office of China’s counterintelligence agency arrested Leung in the city two years ago.

He was convicted of “espionage” and sentenced to life imprisonment [and] Depriving them of political rights for life,” according to the Intermediate People’s Court statement posted on the WeChat social networking platform.

It is unclear where Leung was living at the time of his arrest.

A spokesman for the US Embassy in Beijing said they were aware of the reports. They said, “The State Department has no greater priority than the safety and security of American citizens abroad.”

The BBC has reached out to the State Department in Washington for additional comment.

In addition, the state-run China Daily reported that Mr. Leung spoke at an event in Houston as the chair of the Leung Foundation for Cultural Exchange.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Leung’s work with the foundation has seen him travel frequently to China to meet with government officials.

publicly Available records It also showed that a man with the same name as Mr. Leung served as chairman and president of the Texas-based Houston-Nanjing Friendship Association, which was dissolved in 2015.

Closed trials are common in China, and few details are usually made public in sensitive cases such as those involving espionage charges.

However, heavy sentences like this are relatively rare for foreign nationals.

In July, a new law will go into effect that expands the scope of China’s espionage legislation. It will prohibit the delivery of any data that the authorities deem to be relevant to national security.

Leung’s imprisonment is likely to further strain relations between China and the United States, which deteriorated during the administration of former US President Donald Trump after he launched a trade war against China in 2018.

The two superpowers continue to clash over various issues, including the Taiwan issue, China’s militarization of the South China Sea, and the origins of Covid.

Tensions also rose in February when the US shot down an alleged Chinese spy balloon, which Beijing insisted was a weather-monitoring device.

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