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China Sentenced Pro-CCP American Chinese to Life Imprisonment on Espionage Charges

Paramilitary policemen walk along a red wall near the Tiananmen Gate in Beijing on Nov. 13, 2019. (Noel Celis/AFP via Getty Images)

U.S. citizen John Shing-wan Leung, aged 78, was sentenced to life imprisonment on espionage charges in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, China, on May 15. Public records indicate that Leung, a leading figure in the Pro-CCP Chinese community in Texas, held positions such as President of the China Council for the Promotion of Peaceful National Reunification (CCPPNR), an affiliated organization of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

According to mainland Chinese media reports, the Intermediate People’s Court of Suzhou found Liang guilty of espionage. It sentenced him to life imprisonment, depriving him of his political rights for life, and confiscating his personal property of RMB 500,000. (approximately US$70,000)

Official documents listed Leung’s English name as John Shing-Wan Leung, born on May 1, 1945. Furthermore, they detailed his Hong Kong permanent resident identity card number, Exit-Entry Permit for Travelling to and from Hong Kong and Macao (Two-way Permit) number, and U.S. passport number. On April 15, 2021, the National Security Bureau in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, took him into custody.

However, authorities did not disclose the specific “spy activities” he was involved in.

Contribution to CCP’s United Front Work

According to past news reports, Leung held positions such as President of the CCPPNR in Texas and President of the American Chinese Friendship Association (ACFA). Leung has been pictured with several high-ranking CCP officials and political figures, including former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Yang Jiechi.

CCPPNR is a semi-official organization led by the CCP’s United Front Work Department and has branches in 22 locations across the United States. When the CCP introduced the Hong Kong National Security Law in 2020, CCPPNR Texas and the ACFA issued statements supporting the law.

Xinhua News Agency reported,  in May 2015, a symposium was held by overseas Chinese in the southern United States in Houston, where Leung stated that “one country, two systems” could not only maintain the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong but also promote and maintain the prosperity and stability of the “Taiwan region.”

Leung’s actions have received official recognition. The overseas edition of the People’s Daily, the official mouthpiece of the CCP, previously featured Leung’s “patriotic” deeds in 2004. He was born in Hong Kong, went to the United Kingdom to study at the age of 16, and later worked at the United Nations headquarters in the United States, where he has lived ever since. He founded the friendship association between Oklahoma City and Guangzhou in 1985, and established and chaired the Leung Cultural Exchange Foundation in 1997.

The People’s Daily described him as “passionate about China and supportive of China’s reunification.” Starting in 1999, he actively promoted cultural exchange activities between China and the United States, facilitating visits and exchanges between Chinese and American artists and teachers, with “financial support” from relevant departments and leaders in China.

As a “distinguished” Chinese American, Leung has been received by Chinese leaders visiting the United States on numerous occasions and has been pictured with several high-ranking CCP officials and political figures, including China’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Yang Jiechi.

Latest Amendment to Espionage Law Expands Definitions

The recent amendment to the Anti-Espionage Law by the CCP in China has been approved and will officially take effect on July 1. The new legislation increases the number of articles from 40 to 71, expanding the definition of espionage activities. It broadens the scope of classified information to include “documents, data, materials, and items related to other countries’ national security and interests.” It grants Chinese authorities the power to inspect the personal belongings of individuals suspected of espionage.

Lai Jianping, a former Beijing lawyer, and current affairs commentator, expressed concerns about the revised Anti-Espionage Law, stating that the expanded and ambiguous definitions allow authorities to interpret the law and accuse any individuals subjectively. He worried that “foreigners’ normal business activities can be seen as intelligence gathering.”

Lian: Possible Result of Power Struggle Within the Overseas Pro-CCP Chinese Community

Media personality and scholar Joseph Lian Yi-zheng believes that several possibilities exist in this case. According to his sources, the incident may have been triggered by power struggles within the overseas Chinese community due to competing interests. He said that influential overseas Chinese leaders often have vested interests with Chinese consulate personnel, formerly pro-Taiwan, later pro-China, and are opportunistic. They are bound to form factions. When some groups’ interests are compromised, they are afraid to go through the local legal channel to resolve their conflicts, as it would expose their shady practices, including corruption and financial support from the Chinese government. So they “borrow a knife to kill.” Lian emphasized, “The CCP is the knife.” Leaders of overseas Chinese need to watch out.”