Chinese officials say they're ready for a unsafe game of tit-for-tat, the Wall Street Journal reports.
They're telling Washington that China may round up USA nationals there unless charges against Chinese military-affiliated scholars in America are dropped.
In July, the Justice Department said the Federal Bureau of Investigation had arrested three Chinese nationals for allegedly concealing memberships in the Peoples Liberation Army when applying for visas to conduct research at USA academic institutions.
A State Department advisory on September 14 warning against travel to China said the Chinese government uses arbitrary detention and exit bans for US citizens and others "to gain bargaining leverage over foreign governments". The department has also warned U.S. travelers to avoid China, which detains people for "leverage" purposes, per Reuters.
The report said that Chinese officials have been conveying this to their U.S. counterparts from summer this year.
The Chinese Embassy in Washington and China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs didn't respond to the newspaper's requests for comment, it said.
Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, John Demers, Head of US Justice Department's national security division said, "If China wants to be seen as one of the world's leading nations, it should respect the rule of law and stop taking hostages".
U.S. officials had alleged that Chinese diplomats were using the scientists as part of an intelligence-gathering scheme, according to an August report by the outlet.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has publicly criticized the arrests.
Asked by a journalist if he was issuing a threat, Mr. Cong replied: "That is your interpretation".
The U.S. has affixed tariffs on Chinese imports, restricted Chinese corporations over national security concerns, and sought to counter Beijing's military buildup in the South China Sea.
At the time, a State Department spokeswoman said the United States continued to welcome "legitimate students and scholars from China who do not further the Chinese Communist Party's goals of military dominance". The prosecutions have become a flashpoint of tension between the U.S. and China, which have since closed each other's diplomatic missions in Houston and Chengdu.
Prosecutors were cited to have claimed in court papers that in some instances, the researchers brought to the Chinese Embassy in Washington were instructed by their country's diplomats to delete or reset all their electronic devices to prepare them for questioning by United States officers at the airport. She was consequently charged with visa fraud and making deceptive statements when she emerged from the facility in July.
The lawyer, Malcolm Segal, added: "The Chinese government has played no role whatsoever in the case itself or in her defense, nor do I ever expect them to do so". Two are scheduled to face trial next month.