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U.S Navy sailor jailed for sharing military data with China

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A U.S. Navy sailor, Petty Officer Wenheng “Thomas” Zhao, 26, received a 27-month jail sentence and a $5,500 fine for accepting nearly $15,000 in bribes on Monday from a Chinese intelligence officer. 

Zhao, stationed at Naval Base Ventura County in California, had pleaded guilty in October to conspiracy and receiving a bribe. 

He admitted providing his Chinese handler with photos of unclassified private U.S. military information, including plans for military exercises in the Indo-Pacific, operational orders, and electrical diagrams and blueprints for a radar system on a U.S. military base in Okinawa, Japan.

Larissa Knapp, the executive assistant director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Security Branch, expressed concern over Zhao’s betrayal, stating, “Zhao chose to betray the oath he took to our country and put others at risk.” 

She underscored the sentencing as evidence of the challenges faced by China’s intelligence services in preventing the apprehension and prosecution of spies recruited by the FBI and its partners.

The U.S. has consistently accused China of engaging in extensive espionage and cyberattacks, an allegation that Beijing rejects. Responding to Zhao’s case, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning claimed unawareness of the specifics but criticized the alleged double standards in U.S. actions. 

Mao Ning remarked, “America on the one hand repeatedly disseminates false information about so-called Chinese spies, and yet on the other hand openly declares it wants to launch large-scale espionage activities against China. This is a double standard.”

Despite recent tensions in bilateral relations over national security, trade, COVID-19, and Taiwan, a summit in San Francisco in November between Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden was seen as a positive development, helping to cool tensions.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi acknowledged the challenging state of China-U.S. relations at the beginning of 2023 but noted efforts to restructure communication and dialogue, resulting in the stabilization of bilateral relations. 

Wang Yi mentioned this during a symposium in Beijing, stating, “After arduous efforts, both sides restructured communication and dialogue, and bilateral relations were able to stop worsening and to stabilize.”

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