Exclusive: US ploy to charge Chinese scientists with espionage

By Bai Yunyi and Leng Shumei Source:Global Times Published: 2019/8/25 17:43:39 Last Updated: 2019/8/26 1:08:23

Chinese scientist’s safe return expected after trial

Researchers experiment on micro-electro-mechanical systems at Tianjin University on Friday. Photo: Bai Yunyi/GT

Zhang Hao, a Chinese professor from Tianjin University (TJU) who was arrested in May 2015 by the US and charged with economic espionage, will stand trial on September 10, according to information obtained by the Global Times.   

An insider familiar with the case told the Global Times that Zhang's company ROFS Microsystem filed a lawsuit in Tianjin in September 2017 against Apple for intellectual property infringement. The suit came after ROFS found their patent technologies were being used in filter chips sold to Apple in 2016 by Avago Technologies, now combined into US chip maker Broadcom Inc. 

Zhang and his colleague Pang Wei were charged with stealing Avago technology when they worked in the US and taking it to TJU and ROFS. 

But according to the insider,Zhang and Pang obtained patents for seven technologies in the US and 200 others after they came back to China, which were found being used in filter chips Avago sold to Apple. 

"ROFS is very confident about winning the case," said the insider, who requested anonymity. 

Immediately after the lawsuit was filed, Apple tried to seek an out-of-court settlement but ROFS rejected it, said the insider. 

After that in 2018, Avago filed suit against ROFS in Tianjin questioning Zhang's patent ownership while Apple filed a lawsuit in Beijing against China's National Intellectual Property Administration, asking it to invalidate the patent. 

Both lawsuits caused a suspension of the intellectual property infringement case against Apple. 

ROFS and TJU hope the case against Apple can restart as soon as possible and a fair result can be reached as soon as possible, the insider said. 

They were confident about winning with the abundant evidence which would help Zhang in the trial in the US.

Deliberate ploys 

On May 16, 2015, Zhang, then 36, was arrested when he landed at Los Angeles International Airport to attend an international academic conference. The invitation to the conference was reportedly a trap set by the FBI.

Besides the airport arrest, the insider revealed more FBI ploys. 

One important piece of evidence that Avago provided to the US court was emails between Zhang and Pang, which Avago claimed involved commercial secrets. But these emails were obtained illegally through hacking the TJU intranet and showed apparent editing and revision, the insider said. 

TJU invited Chinese experts to examine the emails and the experts agreed that they had been edited, the insider said.  

Another piece of evidence the US side provided was a report which claimed that TJU and ROFS are Chinese governmental institutions, as the university is affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of Education (MOE) and the school funds ROFS. 

The Global Times found that TJU only holds 7 percent of ROFS shares. The report's accusation against the school also reveals the report author's ignorance of China's system. 

China has 75 universities affiliated with the MOE. The ministry usually does not interfere in schools' management. 

Another ploy, according to the insider, was played in 2012 when Rich Ruby, an Avago executive, visited TJU and offered to cooperate. 

"The university was unfenced at that time," the insider said. "They invited Ruby to give students a speech but turned down his suggestion to provide funding and a capital injection to ROFS."

After he returned to the US, Ruby reported to the FBI and asked them to intervene, saying TJU had totally copied the Avago production line. 

"But TJU's lab is only 200 square meters, which is impossible compared to Avago's over-10,000-square-meter factory," said the insider.

"Seventy percent of the university's facilities were secondhand, bought at a low price for student practice," said the insider, noting that many following signs showed that Ruby is connected with FBI.

The reason Avago targets ROFS is the Chinese company's filter chips. 

While Avago monopolizes filter chip technologies, ROFS has grown into a company with international competitiveness and a small supply capacity, which Chinese experts say is of vital importance for the Chinese chip industry to break through US suppression.  

The company's main products - filter chips - are widely viewed as the core component in modern wireless communication, 5G, internet and artificial intelligence, the insider said. 

Zhang Hao. Photo: Courtesy of Zhang's wife Fan Liping

Worried families  

Zhang was released on $50,000 bail on July 29, 2015 but has not been allowed to leave California since then. 

Fan Liping, Zhang's wife, told the Global Times that Zhang has been under great psychological pressure in the past four years living in the US due to the delay in the case. 

Fan said that Zhang is only allowed freedom of activity from 7 am to 9 pm in northern California, and has to wear monitoring devices. 

This year, he suffered a serious decline in his health. He was unable to sleep and sometimes he vomited when he ate.

Zhang's case was put on hold since the second half of 2018, according to Fan, amid the escalating US-initiated trade war against China during which more Chinese scientists and companies have faced suppression, investigation, dismissal and inquiries from the US side. 

Fan also noted US customs officials have become more prejudiced in the past year when she went to the US to visit Zhang, including questions on whether she was working for Huawei.

Fan and her family members usually turn off their mobile phones in the US for fear of being monitored by the US government.   

Zhang's case not only affected his own career, but impacted TJU's research under his leadership, Zhang's colleague Duan Xuexin told the Global Times.

"All I want is my son to win the case and come back safely as soon as possible," Zhang's father Zhang Jiaqi told the Global Times.

Newspaper headline: US secret scheme revealed

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