The US authorities have arrested and charged an alleged officer in China's Ministry of State Security (MSS) with trying to steal aviation secrets from American firms, in a move likely to enrage Beijing.
A U.S. Department of Justice statement said Xu, a deputy division director for the State Security Department of China's Jiangsu province, targeted several U.S. aerospace companies, including GE Aviation, a subsidiary of General Electric Co.
Xu, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation attempted to obtain technological information including trade secrets from employees of aerospace companies from the us and Europe. He's charged with working to get aviation employees to inadvertently reveal trade secrets to the Chinese government.
The two have also feuded over U.S. support for Taiwan, Chinese weapons purchases from Russian Federation and China's territorial claims in the South China Sea - where the U.S. says a Chinese destroyer came aggressively close to a U.S. Navy ship late last month, forcing it to maneuver to prevent a collision. USA law enforcement officials in recent years have faced criticism that indictments of foreign operatives are not likely to result in the defendants setting foot in a courtroom. "The defendant will now face trial in federal court in Cincinnati". "But we can not tolerate a nation stealing our firepower and the fruits of our brainpower".
Prosecutors said from 2013 to his arrest in April, Xu would recruit experts from aviation companies to travel to China under the false pretense they would give educational presentations at a university.
In one instance, Xu targeted data on the design and composite materials of GE engine rotor blades, sending an informant specific questions he wanted answered, according to intercepted communications cited in the indictment.
GE Aviation is a top manufacturer of jet and turboprop engines and components for commercial, military, business and general aviation aircraft.
Xu proposed meeting the employee during a trip to Europe.
John Demers, the assistant United States attorney general for national security, said the case was not an isolated incident.
GE Aviation exhibited equipment at the Zhuhai Airshow in 2010. "It is part of an overall economic policy of developing China at American expense", said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers.
This is the latest in a string of economic espionage cases involving Chinese nationals stealing information beneficial to Beijing-though an indictment of an intelligence officer within the Chinese Communist Party is rare.
A Chinese national is being held in custody by U.S. authorities after he was extradited from Belgium on Tuesday, adding to escalating tensions between Washington and Beijing. He could also face financial penalties. "We will not tolerate a nation that reaps what it does not sow", he added.
The Justice Department did not say whether Xu had diplomatic immunity, but if he had such immunity he would not have been arrested and extradited.