The US has charged a suspected Chinese spy with attempting to steal secrets from top American aviation and aerospace companies after he was tracked down and detained in Belgium.
Yanjun Xu – a senior officer at the Chinese ministry of state security – has been extradited to face the accusations, which include targeting the Ohio-based aircraft engine supplier GE Aviation.
The company has provided engines for large Boeing and Airbus planes, and is also working on a new generation of engines for commercial planes and heavy-lift military helicopters.
According to The Washington Post, the man was arrested after being lured to Belgium by US agents and is suspected of having carried out his crimes since around December 2013.
The FBI said the extradition showed the “direct oversight” of the Chinese government in “economic espionage” against the US, but China has accused Washington of “making something out of thin air”.
John Demers, the assistant US attorney general for national security, said the case was not an isolated incident.
“It is part of an overall economic policy of developing China at American expense,” he claimed.
“We cannot tolerate a nation stealing our firepower and the fruits of our brainpower.”
Dmitri Alperovitch, chief technology officer at cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, said the arrest was a further sign China was “actively engaging in targeted and persistent intrusion attempts against multiple sectors of the economy”.
The charges come amid heightened tensions between the two countries, and last week US Vice President Mike Pence accused China of attempts to undermine President Donald Trump ahead of the midterms next month.
Mr Pence also accused China of using its economic might to bully smaller countries, which Beijing denied.
The uneasy relationship between Mr Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping seems to have put an end to a previous understanding reached by Barack Obama.
Responding to the arrest of Mr Xu, former US state department official Chris Painter – who negotiated the agreement – said it was “not surprising that now the relationship has deteriorated, so has the agreement”.
Last month, the US justice department confirmed the arrest of a Chinese citizen in Chicago on charges he was an undercover agent for a high-ranking Chinese intelligence official who was trying to recruit engineers and scientists.
And earlier this week, NBC News reported that professor at a cancer research centre in Houston, Texas, who is facing
child pornography charges was also under scrutiny for alleged economic espionage for China.
The maximum penalty for conspiracy and attempt to commit economic espionage in the US is 15 years, and it is 10 years for conspiracy and attempts to steal trade secrets.