A US federal court charged a Stanford University visiting researcher alleged to be an active duty member of China’s military with visa fraud, another in a series of similar indictments this year amid stepped up government investigations aimed at countering Chinese espionage.
Song Chen was charged “in connection with a scheme to lie about her status as an active member of the People’s Republic of China’s military forces” while conducting medical research at Stanford, US Attorney David Anderson and Federal Bureau of Investigation special agent John Bennett said in a Justice Department announcement on Monday.
According to the July 17 indictment, Song said on her US visa application, submitted in 2018, that her military service ended in 2011, which conflicted with FBI evidence pointing to the defendant’s status as an active duty member of civilian cadres of the People’s Liberation Army.
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Part of the evidence included a letter recovered from a deleted hard drive folder that was obtained in a seizure of Song’s items, the court document said. The letter, in which Song identified herself by her name, birth date, and occupation as a doctor in neurology, was addressed to China’s consulate in New York.
Song explained in the letter that “her stated employer, Beijing Xi Diaoyutai Hospital, is a false front, and that, as a result, she had obtained approval for her extension from both the PLA Air Force and [China’s Fourth Military Medical University (FMMU)]”, according to the court document.
Another piece of evidence used by the FBI was Song’s designation as a co-author of a 2018 study “in affiliation with the Air Force General Hospital on silent brain infarction experienced by flying personnel”.
In June, a Chinese military officer named Wang Xin was arrested while trying to leave the US, allegedly with government-funded research from the University of California. He has been charged with visa fraud. According to the FBI’s criminal complaint in that case, Wang holds a position in the People’s Liberation Army that “roughly corresponds with the level of major” and continues to be paid by the PLA.
That position differed from Wang’s statement on his visa application in 2018, which said the purpose of his visit was to conduct scientific research at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), the complaint said, adding that Wang “stated that he intentionally made false statements about his military service in his visa application in order to increase the likelihood that he would receive his … visa”.
When he applied for his US visa, Wang said he had served as an associate professor in medicine in the PLA from 2002 to 2016, and wound up on a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at UCSF to study “the metabolic function of adipose tissue” – the scientific term for fat, according to his indictment.
Wang was instructed by his supervisor in China, a lab director at FMMU – the same institution that Song is allegedly affiliated with – to bring back information on how to “replicate” the UCSF lab where he conducted his research. Wang, prosecutors also contended, “had already sent UCSF research to his PRC laboratory via email”.
The indictment also said that “Wang had wiped his personal phone of all WeChat messaging content” before arriving at the Los Angeles airport.
In May, the White House announced restrictions on graduate students from China, targeting those “associated with entities in China that implement or support China’s Military-Civil Fusion (MCF) strategy, from using F or J visas to enter the United States”.
Ye Yanqing, a Boston University robotics researcher who prosecutors said lied about being in the Chinese army, was indicted in January. Prosecutors said Ye was a lieutenant in the PLA, which she did not disclose when she obtained a visa to enter the United States. She is accused of passing information on research conducted at Boston University to China’s government.
Song, Wang and Ye entered the US on J visas, a non-immigrant category for individuals approved to participate in work-and study-based exchange visitor programmes.
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More from South China Morning Post:
- US to restrict visas for employees of Huawei, other Chinese tech firms
- Chinese military officer arrested, charged with visa fraud as he tries to leave United States
- US ties activities of arrested Chinese military officer to those by defendant in Boston case
This article US charges Chinese researcher with visa fraud, alleges active PLA duty first appeared on South China Morning Post