China Arrests Citizen On Espionage Charges After She Did Work For US Company

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Jake Smith Contributor
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China has arrested one of its citizens on espionage charges after she did “administrative” work for a U.S. company, The Guardian reported on Thursday.

Chinese citizen Emily Chen was arrested after flying back to China from Doha in late December, on suspicions of providing state secrets to foreign actors, a charge that carries a maximum 10-year penalty in most cases, according to The Guardian. Western and foreign businesses have become increasingly wary of doing business in China as there are several similar instances where individuals have been arrested or were prevented from leaving the country. (RELATED: Even More Foreign Investors Fled China In December Amid Ailing Economy)

Chen flew into Nanjing Lukou International Airport in late December and messaged her family that she had safely arrived after her plane landed, according to the Guardian. Chen did not leave the airport and disappeared for several days; it wasn’t until four days later that a Chinese national security bureau in Dalian – a city hundreds of miles away from Nanjing – told Chen’s son she had been arrested.

Chen’s son was subsequently prevented from leaving China after trying to board a flight at a Shanghai airport last week, according to the Guardian.

Details surrounding Chen’s arrest remain scarce, but her husband, Mark Lent, said that the only tie she had to Dalian was her work there with a U.S. logistics company, Safe Ports, for several months in 2023, according to the Guardian. Safe Ports is a global supply chain management company that was looking to expand its offices into Dalian; Safe Ports CEO Lucy Duncan said that Chen’s work there was “purely administrative” and had “no idea as to why she has been detained.”

(Photo by Guang Niu/Getty Images)

A policeman (R) checks a passport at the Mohan port border between China and Laos and the end point of the Chinese section of the Kumming-Bangkok Highway on July 7, 2005 in Xishuangbanna Prefecture, Yunnan Province, China. (Photo by Guang Niu/Getty Images)

Lent, who has not been able to contact Chen since her arrest and is raising money for her legal fees, says she “would never, ever spy on her own country,” according to the Guardian. “My wife was just an innocent bystander.”

It is unclear if Chen’s work with Safe Ports in Dalian was the reason behind her arrest, according to the Guardian. However, Dalian is home to a Chinese naval base, and Safe Ports has done work with the U.S. Department of Defense before, which could have raised questions and concerns from Chinese authorities.

Chen is being held in a residential surveillance location, where she could be held for up to six months without access to a lawyer, according to the Guardian. Safe Ports decided to scrap its plans to build an office in Dalian, with Duncan claiming that China’s aggression toward foreign companies made it “impossible to do business” in the country.

China has arrested or blocked several individuals for doing business with U.S. companies inside of China. Michael Chan, a senior executive at a U.S. risk advisory firm Kroll, have been prevented from leaving the country in late 2023 pending an investigation, one he was not the subject of. Chinese authorities raided U.S.-based firm Mintz Group’s office in Beijing last year and arrested five employees; authorities conducted a similar raid of U.S.-based consulting firm Bain & Company’s Shanghai office and confiscated electronics from employees.

In many instances, details are few regarding why individuals doing work with U.S. companies are arrested or prevented from leaving China.

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