A UC Davis cancer researcher, suspected of being a clandestine member of the Chinese military, has taken refuge in the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco, according to U.S. prosecutors.
The researcher, Juan Tang, is charged with visa fraud, accused of concealing her membership in China’s military and Communist Party in seeking permission to work in a radiation oncology lab at UC Davis. She fled to the consulate after being interviewed by FBI agents in late June, prosecutors said.
Tang is “a fugitive from justice currently being harbored at the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco,” a Justice Department spokeswoman said Thursday.
The charges against Tang come as the U.S. government escalates a simmering dispute with Beijing over what it says are attempts by the Chinese government to steal secrets from the United States’ eminent research institutions. Officials at the consulate could not be reached for comment.
The State Department on Wednesday ordered the Chinese consulate in Houston to close. “We are setting out clear expectations for how the Chinese Communist Party is going to behave,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters in Copenhagen, “and when they don’t, we’re going to take actions that protect the American people, protect our security, our national security and also protect our economy and jobs.”
It was unclear from court records whether Tang had retained an attorney. A phone number listed for the consulate was disconnected.
Her case does not mark the first time U.S. authorities have eyed the San Francisco consulate for aiding researchers suspected of hiding their affiliations with the Chinese government. In June, a researcher at UC San Francisco acknowledged he was secretly a Chinese military official and said he had “a designated point of contact” at the consulate, an FBI agent wrote in an affidavit.
The researcher, Xin Wang, has been charged with visa fraud. Chen Song, a neurology researcher at Stanford, and Kaikai Zhao, who studied machine learning and artificial intelligence as a graduate student at Indiana University, face the same charge; both are accused of having undisclosed ties to the Chinese military.
John Brown, who leads the FBI’s National Security Branch, said Thursday that agents had identified visa holders in more than 25 American cities with hidden affiliations with the Chinese military.
U.S. authorities have evidence the Chinese government is “instructing these individuals to destroy evidence and [is] coordinating efforts" to spirit them out of the United States, Benjamin Kingsley, an assistant U.S. attorney, wrote in court papers.
FBI agents interviewed Tang, the UC Davis researcher, at her apartment in June and served a search warrant, seizing her Chinese passport and various “electronic media,” Steven G. Dilland, an FBI agent in Sacramento, wrote in an affidavit.
The agents recovered pictures of Tang wearing a uniform of the Chinese People's Liberation Army Air Force, Dilland said. They also found an application for government benefits in which Tang identified herself as a member of the Chinese Communist Party, he said.
At some point after being interviewed, Tang fled to the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco, a prosecutor wrote in court papers.
Andy Fell, a spokesman for UC Davis, said Tang was a visiting researcher in UC Davis School of Medicine’s radiation oncology department. Her research was funded by the Chinese Scholarship Council, “a study-based exchange program affiliated with the China’s Ministry of Education and Xijing Hospital in China,” Fell said.
Tang left UC Davis at the end of June, and the school “is providing all information requested by the authorities,” he said.
In asking a judge to unseal documents in her case, a second prosecutor, Heiko P. Coppola, said in court papers filed July 13 that representatives of the Chinese government had approached U.S. officials “about the law enforcement activity surrounding Tang.”
The State Department issued a bulletin this month, warning U.S. citizens in China of “arbitrary enforcement of local laws for purposes other than maintaining law and order.” U.S. officials believe that activity “has some relation” to Tang’s case, Coppola wrote.