A woman in California has been convicted of conspiring to export an unmanned aerial vehicle and fighter jet engines to China. In a news release on Thursday, the U.S. attorney’s office in Miami reported that Wenxia Man, 45, has been found guilty of conspiring to export and cause the export of defense articles without official permission. At the hearing scheduled for August 19, she could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.
Conspiring to export jet engines
According to authorities, Man, with help from China’s Xinsheng Zhang, indulged in illegally acquiring and exporting the items from March 2011 to June 2013. Man referred to Zhang as a “technology spy” while talking to an undercover agent. She said Zhang used to work on behalf of the Chinese military to imitate products from other countries.
According to the grand jury indictment filed on August 21, 2014, Zhang was “acting as an official agent for the procurement of arms, munitions, implements of war, and defense articles on behalf of that country.” Man is a permanent resident of San Diego and was carrying out business under the name AFM Microelectronics, Inc. The California woman was convicted by a federal jury in Florida. According to Florida’s Sun Sentinel newspaper, Man was born in China but is a naturalized U.S. citizen.
The jet engines that Man was convicted of conspiring to export are used in F-16, F-22 and F-35 fighter jets in the U.S., and the drone has the capability to send Hellfire missiles through a third country. The jet engines were made by Pratt & Whitney and General Electric. Along with the jet engines and a General Atomics drone, she was trying to export technical data for the different hardware items, said officials.
Why does China want the jet engines?
This case is the latest development in the ongoing corporate espionage between China and the U.S. Experts believe that in recent decades, spying has helped China modernize itself. Such an illegal acquisition of technology helps the county accelerate its technology by bypassing the usual research and development, which can take years, say experts.
China has been consistently denying any accusations of corporate espionage, although increasing its military has been its utmost priority, and for this, it needed jet engine capabilities. In its most recent five-year development plan, China has underlined the local growth and manufacturing of engines and planes as a foremost goal.
However, it’s a tough segment to conquer, so China has to depend heavily on imported technology. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, engines accounted for 30% of all of China’s imports in the last four years. Even commercial airline C919 the country is developing to take on Boeing is using engines developed jointly by the U.S. and France.
Corporate espionage cases in the U.S. related to China span across several industries, from agriculture to aviation, including aluminum and steel producers, nuclear power plants and solar panel manufacturing.