China sentenced a 78-year-old United States citizen to life in prison Monday on spying charges.
John Shing-Wan Leung, who holds permanent residency in Hong Kong, was detained April 15, 2021, by the counterintelligence agency in the southeastern city of Suzhou. The city’s intermediate court announced Leung’s sentence in a brief statement on its social media site but gave no details of the charges.
Such investigations and trials are held behind closed doors and little or no information is made public.
Relations between Washington and Beijing have hit a historical low amid disputes over trade, technology, human rights and China’s increasingly aggressive approach toward its territorial claims.
The sentencing comes as U.S. President Joe Biden is traveling to Hiroshima, Japan, for the Group of Seven major industrial nations’ summit, followed by a visit to Papua New Guinea, a Pacific island nation in a region where China has sought to increase its economic, military and diplomatic influence.
While the Suzhou court offered no indication of a tie to overall China-U.S. relations, spying charges are highly selective and evidence backing them up is not released. That is standard practice among most countries, who wish to secure their personal connections, networks and access to information.
However, China’s authoritarian political system and the ruling Communist Party’s absolute control over legal matters, civil society and freedom of information forestalls demands for further information, as well as court appeals.