Who Is Dong Jingwei? Alleged China Defector's Disappearance Shrouded in Mystery

One of China's most senior security officials is in the spotlight this week amid a flurry of unconfirmed reports that he has defected to the United States bearing potentially damaging evidence regarding the alleged human-made origins of the coronavirus.

U.S.-based conservative commentary website RedState has named counterintelligence officer Dong Jingwei—China's vice minister of state security—as the high-ranking official who has defected to the U.S. Closely watched intelligence community newsletter SpyTalk has also reported on the subject.

While the Chinese government is yet to comment on these rumors about Dong, 57, a U.S. government source told Newsweek the stories were "absolutely untrue." Meanwhile, some in China's online community appear to be skeptical about his whereabouts.

RedStar was the first to report news about a Chinese defector on June 4. The political blog would not name Dong for another two weeks, but its report said the top official, reportedly in the hands of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), carried sensitive information about China's special weapons programs, including those of a biological nature.

A follow-up on June 11 stated that the alleged defector had provided evidence pertaining to the origins of COVID-19, specifically its alleged human-made origins in the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where it was supposedly engineered as part of a People's Liberation Army project.

Dong's decision to hand himself over to the DIA was kept so under wraps that neither FBI Director Christopher Wray nor the CIA had any knowledge of it, reported RedStar, citing unnamed sources.

The state security official was finally named on June 17 by RedStar and SpyTalk, both of which reported on claims he had flown to the U.S. with his daughter via Hong Kong in February.

Besides providing evidence about the coronavirus's origins, Dong allegedly handed the U.S. intelligence community a list of American officials passing intelligence to China, as well as the names of Chinese spies operating in the U.S., the reports said.

According to U.S.-based pro-democracy activist and Chinese defector Han Lianchao, who posted a tweet on Wednesday, June 16, Dong was among the subjects discussed in Alaska on March 18 and 19, when Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan met with one of China's top diplomats Yang Jiechi and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

The Chinese officials reportedly requested Dong's return, but the Biden officials claimed he was not in the U.S.—because they did not know of his defection at the time, reported RedStar.

Less than 24 hours after Dong's name was revealed on June 17 and the rumors began circulating among Chinese-language news sites in the U.S. and beyond, China's Ministry of State Security announced that Dong had made a recent appearance at a counterintelligence seminar.

During the talk last Friday, Dong reportedly told intelligence officers to be aware of infiltration tactics and espionage by foreign actors. In particular, Dong warned officials of "insiders" who were "colluding with foreign intelligence agencies" to conduct "anti-China" activities.

The report carried by the website of China's Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission did not specify where the talk took place and did not include a picture of Dong or other participants.

Former intelligence officials quoted by SpyTalk have largely dismissed the Dong Jingwei defection as a rumor. RedStar said it stood by its sources.

If the stories are confirmed, Beijing's top spy catcher would become the highest-ranking official known to have defected to the U.S. since the founding of the People's Republic of China.

Commentators have also theorized that the story may have origins inside China's state security apparatus. If it is a ruse, it also appears to have planted some doubt among Chinese netizens.

On Weibo, China's largest social media service, users shared Friday's report about Dong's seminar appearance. While some noted the statement was a deliberate response to the rumors circulating in the U.S., others remained unconvinced, citing the lack of photographic evidence or other detailed information.

The speculation comes less than two weeks before the country is set to hold celebrations marking the 100-year anniversary of the Communist Part of China on July 1.

China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has yet to respond to Newsweek's request for comment.

Update 6/22/21 1:05 p.m. ET: This story has been updated with comment from a U.S. government source.

Updated 6/23/21 12:25 a.m. ET: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that SpyTalk had reported Dong Jingwei's defection, rather than reported on rumors related to the subject.

Rumors Circulate About Chinese Official's U.S. Defection
The Chinese national flag is seen at the entrance to the Zhongnanhai leadership compound in Beijing on May 18, 2020. Unconfirmed reports say that one of China's most senior security officials has defected to the U.S. NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP via Getty Images