U.S. 'Shouldn't Treat Everyone as a Spy,' China Says Amid Espionage Crackdown

Washington "shouldn't treat everyone as a spy," China's foreign ministry said Thursday, after senior U.S. security officials revealed that more than 1,000 Chinese researchers had fled the country amid a Justice Department crackdown on espionage activity.

John Demers, chief of the DOJ's National Security Division, said the U.S. government has managed to disrupt "a significant amount of malign Chinese activity" in the past two to three years.

"In the eyes of some, there is only hatred, division and confrontation," Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters at a regular press briefing. "The U.S. shouldn't treat everyone as a spy."

At a virtual summit hosted by the Aspen Institute think tank on Wednesday, Demers said the latest DOJ clampdown began in the summer with the arrest of "five or six" Chinese researchers, who had failed to disclose their affiliations with China's People's Liberation Army when applying for visas to the U.S.

Demers called it the "tip of the iceberg" as the government stepped up its efforts to disrupt Chinese economic and political espionage in America.

There was "no question" that the research students had been instructed by Beijing to hide their military affiliations, Demers said, noting that the department's work involved dozens of interviews and ultimately led to the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston.

"More than 1,000 PLA-affiliated Chinese researchers left the country" in the interim, Demers said at the event, which he attended alongside the government's head of national counterintelligence, William Evanina.

Only China had the "resources and ability and will" to conduct the scale of malign activity the Justice Department was witnessing, he added.

Hua called the accusations "ridiculous" and suggested Washington lacked confidence in itself.

She said "extreme anti-China forces" in the U.S. government were guilty of "ideological bias" and "political repression." There were also attempts to end civilian cultural exchanges between China and the U.S., she added.

In the same Aspen Institute session, Evanina, who is head of the U.S. National Counterintelligence and Security Center, backed Demers' report on PLA-affiliated researchers, saying: "They're all coming here at the behest of the Chinese government."

Chinese operatives were already targeting members of the incoming Biden administration, Evanina said. He also spoke of passing on U.S. intelligence on Chinese espionage activity to NATO partners in Europe.

After the Trump administration labeled state-owned Chinese news organizations as "foreign missions" in February, Beijing responded by expelling journalists from The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal.

In the summer, the U.S. government added to its list, including the likes of Chinese state broadcaster CCTV, as well as Communist Party newspapers People's Daily and Global Times.

China Daily, which is circulated in English in the U.S., was among the first round of news organizations classified a security risk in February.

In an editorial on Wednesday, the newspaper called U.S. policy a "resurgence of McCarthyism."

On the same day, the State Department imposed new visa restrictions on more than 90 million CCP members and their immediate families.

According to The New York Times, Chinese citizens with party affiliations will now only be granted 30-day, single-entry visitor visas in a move likely to affect some 270 million people.

John Demers DOJ
File photo: John Demers, chief of the Justice Department's National Security Division. Andrew Harnik/Getty Images