A US citizen who is 78 years old has been given a life sentence by a Chinese court, accused of spying.
John Shing-Wan Leung, a permanent resident of Hong Kong, was incarcerated on Monday, with the court in Suzhou, a city in south-east China, refraining from providing further information about the charges leveled against him.
Leung was taken into custody two years prior in the same city by a local division of China’s counterintelligence agency, according to a press release from the court.
The Intermediate People’s Court’s statement, shared on the social media platform WeChat, revealed that Leung “was convicted of espionage, sentenced to life in prison, [and] stripped of his political rights for life”. The exact location of Leung’s residence at the time of his apprehension remains uncertain.
An official representing the US embassy in Beijing confirmed they were informed of the situation. They stated, “The safety and security of US citizens overseas is the top priority of the Department of State.”
In China, it is typical for trials to be held behind closed doors, especially for sensitive cases such as espionage. Often, only a few details are made public.
A law set to be implemented in July will expand the reach of China’s espionage regulations, prohibiting the transfer of any data that is considered to concern national security by authorities.
The incarceration is expected to exacerbate already tense US-China relations, which took a downturn during the Trump administration after the then-president initiated a trade war against China in 2018.
The two global powers continue to face conflicts on several fronts, including the issues of Taiwan, China’s militarization of the South China Sea, and the origins of Covid.
The situation became even more strained in February when the US downed what it claimed to be a Chinese spy balloon. However, China maintained that the object was a device for weather monitoring.