China, US citizen sentenced to life in prison for espionage

China has sentenced John Shing-Wan Leung, also known as Liang Chengyun, who holds a US passport and is a permanent resident of Hong Kong, to life imprisonment on heavy espionage charges. Leung “was found guilty of espionage, sentenced to life imprisonment and deprived of political rights for life”, reads a statement from the Intermediate People’s Court of Suzhou, a city in the eastern province of Jiangsu. Arrested on April 15, 2021 by the Chinese counterintelligence agency, Leung was given “treatment according to the law”, reports a post on the court’s official social media account, without adding any details on the charges. Investigations and trials in China, especially on sensitive issues such as state security, are held behind closed doors and little information is made public until the ruling. Allegations of espionage are highly selective and supporting evidence is not released in a standard practice among most countries to protect their intelligence networks and access to information.

Relations between the US and China are still very tense

Relations between Washington and Beijing are very tense amid disputes over trade, technology, human rights and China’s increasingly aggressive approach to territorial claims with neighboring countries. On May 10 and 11 in Vienna, White House security adviser Jake Sullivan and CCP diplomacy chief Wang Yi held ten-hour talks – according to Beijing media – to try to restore relations on a more comfortable level. The Suzhou court ruling matured as US President Joe Biden will be in Hiroshima, Japan, for the G7 summit (May 19-21), which will be followed by a historic visit to Papua New Guinea – a strategic Pacific island nation in a region where China has accelerated its efforts to increase its economic and diplomatic weight, together with military influence – and from a last stop in Australia for the meeting of the Quad (informal strategic alliance between Australia, Japan, India and the United States with the aim of containing Chinese expansionism in the Indo-Pacific region).