The alleged Chinese intelligence officer, Yanjun Xu, was extradited to the United States on Tuesday from Belgium, where he was arrested in April at Washington's request. "The defendant will now face trial in federal court in Cincinnati".
Yanjun Xu, a Chinese Ministry of State Security operative, also known as Qu Hui and Zhang Hui, was arrested and charged with conspiring and attempting to commit economic espionage and steal trade secrets from multiple US aviation and aerospace companies.
He often concealed his identity by presenting himself as being associated with Chinese universities or organizations such as the Jiangsu Science and Technology Promotion Association.
The operation began in December 2013 and continued until Xu's arrest.
"In reality, the presentations were for the benefit of the Chinese government", the indictment said. Xu, who used multiple aliases, is a deputy division director within China's intelligence and security agency, the US alleges.
A spokesperson for GE Aviation told The Associated Press that the company has been cooperating with the Federal Bureau of Investigation for months and that the impact to the company is "minimal thanks to early detection, our advanced digital systems and internal processes, and our partnership with the Federal Bureau of Investigation".
His job, prosecutors say, was to obtain technical information and trade secrets from foreign aviation and aerospace companies.
In fact, Beijing has targeted "aircraft and aircraft components" as one of ten tech sectors that it wishes to develop aggressively-as part of its "Made in China 2025" industrial plan to transform China into a high-tech manufacturing hub.
The case comes amid a brewing trade war sparked largely by USA accusations China coerces foreign companies into handing over technology in return for access to the Chinese market. Xu worked with a conspirator, unnamed in the indictment, who contacted an engineer of the firm previous year and offered to pay for a trip to China so the employee could talk about his work in connection with an event sponsored by a science and technology association, according to prosecutors.
The indictment does not say if the employee was aware Mr. Xu was a spy or if they ever met in Europe. In reality, the employee, who was paid $3,500 by Xu for the trip, was revealing information to the Chinese government, according to prosecutors.
After the presentation, Xu continued to try to extract critical information from the employee, including how certain research data could be applied to engine production.
Xu was arrested after traveling to Belgium in April.
Conspiracy and attempt to commit economic espionage carries a maximum USA prison sentence of 15 years, and conspiracy to commit theft of trade secrets can carry a 10-year term. There could also be financial penalties.
"This case is not an isolated incident". "It is part of an overall economic policy of developing China at American expense". "But we can not tolerate a nation stealing our firepower and the fruits of our brainpower".
John Demers, the assistant attorney general in charge of national security, said the case was a "significant economic espionage matter" and was the latest proof that China is trying to steal information from American companies.