The United States quietly expelled two Chinese Embassy officials from the country after a September incident in which they were caught entering a sensitive US military facility in Virginia.
According The New York Times, at least one is believed to be an intelligence officer under diplomatic cover. Interestingly, the officials’ wives were accompanying them when they drove onto to the as yet unidentified military facility, and the group actually attempted to flee military personnel pursuing them.
They were reportedly apprehended after fire trucks blocked their path, according to the report. Their subsequent expulsion by US authorities marks the first time Chinese diplomats suspected of espionage have been booted from the country in over three decades. The last such episode happened in 1987.
The Times report says the strange incident is part of a broader pattern of “bolder” efforts by Chinese diplomatic personnel to infiltrate government and research facilities:
The episode in September, which neither Washington nor Beijing made public, has intensified concerns in the Trump administration that China is expanding its spying efforts in the United States as the two nations are increasingly locked in a geopolitical and economic rivalry. U.S. intelligence officials say China poses a greater espionage threat than any other country.
In recent months, Chinese officials with diplomatic passports have become bolder about showing up unannounced at research or government facilities, American officials said, with the infiltration of the military base only the most remarkable instance.
The incident resulted in the State Department imposing stricter travel regulations on Chinese diplomatic personnel in the US, resulting in a protest from Beijing.
This included new requirements for the embassy to notify US authorities anytime a meeting with US or state officials is arranged, or anytime a visit to a government or educational facility will take place.
Beijing has for years imposed even stricter requirements on US personnel in China. And we can only imagine the outrage and major ‘international incident’ headlines which would ensue if Americans did the same inside China, based on the following further details of the September incident:
The Chinese officials and their wives drove up to a checkpoint for entry to the base, said people briefed on the episode. A guard, realizing that they did not have permission to enter, told them to go through the gate, turn around and exit the base, which is common procedure in such situations.
But the Chinese officials instead continued on to the base, according to those familiar with the incident. After the fire trucks blocked them, the Chinese officials indicated that they had not understood the guard’s English instructions, and had simply gotten lost, according to people briefed on the matter.
Military personnel said they were skeptical of the “gotten lost” excuse, and suspected they were conducting an experimental breach of the base’s security.
The report only identified the location as being near Norfolk, Virginia, and as housing Special Operations forces. One such base in the area described includes the headquarters of the Navy’s elite SEAL Team Six; however, it’s as yet unconfirmed the precise facility which was breached.