November 20, 2009 / 9:13 AM / 9 years ago

TIMELINE: Ethnic Chinese nabbed for stealing secrets, espionage

BEIJING (Reuters) - The United States is seeking the release of Chinese-born, American geologist Xue Feng, who was detained two years ago on state secrets charges after negotiating the purchase of an oil industry database.

The following is a chronology of cases involving ethnic Chinese executives of foreign companies and Chinese-born, overseas-based academics, reporters and dissidents charged with stealing state secrets, espionage or other crimes.

March 1996 - An official of the state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corp was detained for leaking state secrets to a Chinese employee of Royal Dutch Shell who was released after spending a year largely incommunicado. Shell was in talks with CNOOC then to build an oil refinery.

October 1996 - China freed a Chinese employee of Swiss-owned SBC Warburg, detained for one month on suspicion of leaking state secrets, apparently for having helped prepare materials for company clients on the trend of China’s currency, the yuan.

November 1999 - Australian businessman James Peng, held in a Chinese prison for six years, was released on parole and deported. He had been abducted from a hotel in Macau in October 1993, spirited across the border to China and sentenced in 1996 to 18 years in jail on bribery charges.

January 2000 - Song Yongyi, a Pennsylvania-based scholar and expert on China’s chaotic 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, was released after five months in a Chinese prison on charges of gathering state secrets. He has since become a U.S. citizen.

July 2001 - Li Shaomin, a Hong Kong-based U.S. professor, was convicted of spying for Taiwan, but spared a sentence and released after spending five months in custody. The conviction came one day after Beijing won its bid to host the 2008 Olympics.

July 2001 - Gao Zhan and Qin Guangguang, Chinese academics with U.S. permanent residency status, were sentenced to 10 years in prison each for collecting intelligence for Taiwan. They were released days later ahead of a visit to Beijing by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.

February 2003 - A Chinese court sentenced dissident Wang Bingzhang, a permanent U.S. resident, to life in prison on charges of terrorism and spying for Taiwan after he stole into the country and was caught.

May 2004 - A Chinese court handed Boston-based scholar Yang Jianli a five-year prison sentence for entering China illegally and spying for Taiwan in a case that drew U.S. congressional attention and triggered widespread criticism abroad.

August 2006 - Ching Cheong, a Hong Kong reporter for Singapore’s Straits Times, was jailed for five years for spying for Taiwan. He was paroled in February 2008, six months before Beijing hosted the Olympic Games.

November 2008 - China executed Wo Weihan, a businessman accused of spying for Taiwan, despite a last-ditch effort by his daughters to appeal for clemency through diplomatic channels. Wo had lived in Germany and Austria for many years. His ex-wife and daughters are Austrian citizens.

July 2009 - Four employees of Australian miner Rio Tinto were detained for stealing state secrets shortly before a deadline for acrimonious iron ore price negotiations. They were later formally arrested for stealing commercial secrets, and the investigation was recently extended into mid-January.

They included Stern Hu, an Australian national and Rio Tinto’s top iron ore salesman in China.

Compiled by Benjamin Kang Lim; Editing by Sugita Katyal

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