China is threatening to detain U.S. citizens in response to Justice Department prosecutions of researchers linked to the Chinese military, the Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday.
The Justice Department has indicted several Chinese researchers who worked in the U.S., accusing them of attempting to conceal their connections with the People’s Liberation Army. U.S. intelligence officials believe that a small number of Chinese researchers have been involved in gathering intelligence for the P.L.A. When the State Department ordered the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston, the department also ordered China to remove all P.L.A.–connected researchers from the U.S., the Journal reported in August.
Chinese diplomats have been issuing warnings to their American counterparts that if the Justice Department continues its prosecutions of P.L.A.–linked researchers, U.S. citizens in China could run into legal troubles, people familiar with the matter told the Journal. China began issuing the threats after the U.S. arrests of those researchers.
The State Department issued a level-3 travel advisory in September for Americans planning to visit China. A level-3 advisory is the agency’s second-highest travel advisory, and is implemented “due to serious risks to safety and security” of travelers.
“The [Chinese] government arbitrarily enforces local laws, including by carrying out arbitrary and wrongful detentions and through the use of exit bans on U.S. citizens and citizens of other countries without due process of law,” the State Department’s warning states. “U.S. citizens traveling or residing in [China] or Hong Kong, may be detained without access to U.S. consular services or information about their alleged crime.”
China detained two Canadian citizens in 2018 after the chief financial officer of Huawei was arrested in Canada. The imprisonment of the two Canadian citizens was seen in that country as a form of “hostage diplomacy,” in this case an attempt to scuttle the extradition of the Huawei CFO to stand trial in the U.S. on charges of fraud.