On Monday, China denied that US nationals are under threat of arbitrary detention after a report from The Wall Street Journal suggested otherwise.
The Journal report cited unnamed US officials who said China had repeatedly threatened to detain US nationals as retaliation for the US Department of Justice’s prosecution of Chinese researchers and academics.
“The US claim that foreign nationals in China are under threat of arbitrary detention is playing the victim and confusing black and white,” Beijing’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a news conference. Zhao said China protects the safety and legitimate rights of foreigners.
The US arrested several Chinese researchers this year, accusing them of hiding ties to China’s People’s Liberation Army. The arrests are part of the DOJ’s “China Initiative,” which aims to counter national security threats coming from Beijing. The threats outlined by the DOJ mostly involve issues of intellectual property, like trade secrets and the transfer of technology to China.
With the initiative’s focus on intellectual property, researchers and scientists are a natural target. In 2019, The South China Morning Post reported that Chinese American scientists feared being targeted and began receiving phone calls and visits from the FBI without being accused of any crime.