China jails US citizen for life on espionage charges
China has sentenced a 78-year-old US citizen to life in prison for espionage, a court said Monday, but revealed few details about the case that had previously gone unreported.
Such heavy terms are relatively rare for foreign citizens in China, and the jailing of American passport holder John Shing-wan Leung is likely to further strain already damaged ties between Beijing and Washington.
Leung, who is a Hong Kong permanent resident, “was found guilty of espionage, sentenced to life imprisonment, deprived of political rights for life”, said a statement from the Intermediate People’s Court in the eastern Chinese city of Suzhou.
Suzhou authorities “took compulsory measures according to the law” against 78-year-old Leung in April 2021, it said, without specifying when he had been taken into custody. It was unclear where Leung had been living at the time of his arrest.
A spokesperson for the US embassy in Beijing said they were aware of reports that a US citizen had been recently convicted and sentenced in Suzhou.
“The Department of State has no greater priority than the safety and security of US citizens overseas,” the spokesperson said.
“Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment.”
The court statement provided no further details on the charges, and closed-door trials are routine in China for sensitive cases.
Foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin declined to comment further on the case at a regular press briefing on Monday.
The jailing is likely to further damage relations with Washington, which are already severely strained over issues such as trade, human rights and Taiwan.
Washington and Beijing have just ended an unofficial pause in high-level contacts over the United States’ shooting down in February of a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon.
In an apparent breakthrough last week, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi held eight hours of talks in Vienna, with both sides describing the meeting as “candid, substantive and constructive”.
On Friday Washington issued a statement condemning the reported sentencing of a human rights activist for “inciting subversion of state power”.
Guo Feixiong, also known as Yang Maodong, was jailed for eight years, according to rights groups. There has been no official confirmation from China of the sentencing.
In its statement, the US State Department said its diplomats had been barred from attending the trial in southern China.