A Chinese court has sentenced a 78-year-old US citizen to life in prison for espionage.
Jun Cheng Wan Leung, a permanent resident of Hong Kong, was imprisoned on Monday.
The court in the southeastern city of Suzhou did not provide further details on the allegations against him.
A court press release said Leung was arrested by the local office of China’s counterintelligence agency in the city two years ago.
He was found guilty of “espionage” and sentenced to life imprisonment [and] Depriving them of their political rights for life,” according to the Intermediate People’s Court statement, posted on the WeChat social networking platform.
It is unknown where Leung was living at the time of his arrest.
A spokesman for the US Embassy in Beijing said they were aware of the information. They said: “The State Department has no higher priority than the safety and security of American citizens abroad.
At a news conference in Washington, D.C., on Monday, the State Department declined to comment on the case, citing confidentiality concerns.
Closed trials are common in China and in sensitive cases such as those involving espionage charges, few details are usually made public.
However, such harsh sentences are relatively rare for foreign nationals.
In July, a new law will go into effect, expanding the scope of China’s espionage laws. Any data the authorities deem to be relevant to national security will be prohibited from being handed over.
American and Chinese media reports and archives show that Mr. Leung was heavily involved with Chinese cultural organizations and expatriates in the United States.
According to the Hong Kong media, he was the president of the Texas branch of the Association for the Promotion of Peaceful Reunification in China (APPRC), which promotes Beijing’s claims on Taiwan abroad.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Leung also heads his own foundation—the Leung Foundation for Cultural Exchange—that sends musicians to and from China and the United States. He often traveled to China to meet with government officials.
Leung’s imprisonment is likely to further strain relations between China and the United States, which soured under the administration of former US President Donald Trump after he launched a trade war against China in 2018.
The two superpowers continue to feud over various issues, including the issue of Taiwan, China’s militarization of the South China Sea, and the origins of COVID.
Tensions also rose in February when the US shot down an alleged Chinese spy balloon, which Beijing said was a weather-monitoring device.