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US moves to drop charges of visa fraud against Chinese researcher ahead of talks

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Tang Juan, a Chinese researcher at the University of California, was accused of visa fraud and avoiding arrest by the FBI last year. (File photo)

The US Justice Department has moved to drop all charges against a Chinese researcher who was arrested last year by the US authorities over visa fraud and hiding her military credentials.

Tang Juan, a visiting researcher at the University of California, whose jury trial was set to start on Monday, had been accused of lying about her affiliation to the Chinese military in order to acquire a US visa and avoiding arrest by entering the Chinese consulate in San Francisco. 

In a filing at the US District Court for the Eastern District of California, prosecutors said they were moving to dismiss the indictment and vacate the trial, without providing any reasons.

It comes after the defense on Monday sought dismissal of the case, based on recently disclosed evidence of a report by FBI that questioned if the visa application question on "military service" was clear enough for Chinese medical scientists at military universities and hospitals, according to Reuters.

Pertinently, Tang was issued a non-immigrant visa in 2019 to conduct research at the University of California. But after FBI agents found photos of her in military uniform on the internet, she was interrogated followed by the arrest.

She is among at least five Chinese researchers arrested last year over the issue with two still in jail.

Chinese foreign ministry in July last year termed the arrests “blunt political persecution”, which it said “severely infringes on Chinese citizens' interests”.

Defense lawyers argue that their clients' real crime is running afoul of US-China tensions.

Civil liberties groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Asian Law Caucus, have voiced deep concern about the cases, saying they reflect anti-China bias of the US government.

“The (US) government's 'China Initiative' has been framed in dangerous, over-broad terms since its inception, casting widespread suspicion on people of Chinese descent," Patrick Toomey, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU, was quoted as saying last month. “The initiative was supposed to combat the theft of trade secrets, but this case, like so many others, contains no such allegations.”

The US justice department started the China Initiative three years ago under former President Donald Trump to counter what it termed China's “national security threats”.

In a report on Dec. 2, 2020, Washington Post said more than 1,000 Chinese researchers were forced to flee the US in the wake of the arrests of Chinese researchers accused of lying on their visa applications.

The move to drop charges against Tang comes as the US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman is set to visit China on July 25-26, where she will meet with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

Sherman's visit to Beijing follows her visits to Japan, South Korea and Mongolia as part of her second trip to Asia in less than two months.

The China talks would be "part of ongoing U.S. efforts to hold candid exchanges ... to advance U.S. interests and values and to responsibly manage the relationship," the US department of state said in a statement on Wednesday.


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