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International relations

Chinese spy charged with trying to steal US aviation trade secrets

Arrest comes amid Washington's pressure on Beijing on economic and security fronts

Chinese operative is accused of targeting GE Aviation and others.   © Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- A spy for the Chinese Ministry of State Security was arrested and indicted on charges of economic espionage and attempting to steal trade secrets from several U.S. aviation and aerospace companies, the Justice Department said on Wednesday.

Chinese operative Yanjun Xu, a deputy division director for the ministry's Jiangsu State Security Department, is accused of targeting several aerospace companies, including GE Aviation, a subsidiary of General Electric Co, the Justice Department said in a statement.

GE Aviation is a top manufacturer of jet and turboprop engines and components for commercial, military, business and general aviation aircraft. It has supplied engines for large Boeing Co and Airbus SE planes, and is working on a new generation of engines for commercial planes and heavy-lift military helicopters.

The Ministry of State Security is China's intelligence and security agency, responsible for counterintelligence, foreign intelligence and political security. It has broad powers to conduct espionage domestically and abroad, the statement said.

The charges come as the United States increases pressure on China over its trade policies and alleged theft of U.S. companies' intellectual property.

Xu was detained in Belgium in April on a federal complaint and extradited to the United States on Tuesday, the statement said. The Washington Post reported that he was lured to Belgium by U.S. federal law enforcement agents.

"This indictment alleges that a Chinese intelligence officer sought to steal trade secrets and other sensitive information from an American company that leads the way in aerospace," said John Demers, the assistant U.S. attorney general for national security.

"This case is not an isolated incident. It is part of an overall economic policy of developing China at American expense," Demers added. "We cannot tolerate a nation stealing our firepower and the fruits of our brainpower."

The indictment alleges that, beginning around December 2013 and continuing until his arrest, Xu targeted aviation companies in the United States and abroad that were recognized leaders in aviation.

He made contact with experts and recruited them to travel to China, often for the initial purpose of delivering a university presentation and paying their costs and a stipend, the Justice Department said.

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