More than 1,000 Chinese researchers have left the US amid a crackdown on alleged technology theft, US security officials have said.
It is also claimed they had already been targeting the incoming Biden administration.
John Demers, chief of the justice department’s national security division, said the researchers left the country when the department launched several criminal cases against Chinese operatives for industrial and technological espionage.
Another Justice Department official said the Chinese nationals were a different group to those mentioned by the State Department in September – when the US revoked visas for more than 1,000 Chinese nationals under a presidential measure, denying entry to students and researchers deemed security risks.
The Chinese researchers are believed to be affiliated with China’s People’s Liberation Army and left the US after the FBI conducted interviews in more than 20 cities and the State Department closed China’s Houston consulate in July.
“Only the Chinese have the resources and ability and will” to engage in the breadth of foreign influence activity that US agencies have seen in recent years, Mr Demers said, during a discussion hosted by the Aspen Institute think tank.
The researchers were already targeting personnel of the incoming administration of president-elect Joe Biden, as well as “people close” to Mr Biden’s team, according to William Evanina, chief of the counterintelligence branch of the office of the US Director of National Intelligence.
More from China
Detained Hong Kong protester’s family believes ‘three meals a day’ letter was sent under duress
Row as China posts fake image of Australian soldier with knife on child’s throat
China ramps up squeeze on Australia with 212% tax on wine
How does the UK’s new green drive compare to the rest of the world?
Belgian racing pigeon New Kim sells for record £1.4m in mystery bidding war between ‘Super Duper’ and ‘Hitman’
Diane Abbott apologises for appearing alongside Chinese human rights abuse denier
He added that the researchers who were under the scrutiny of US agencies were “all coming here at the behest of the Chinese government”.
Mr Biden’s transition team has declined to comment, but his campaign team said earlier this year it was prepared for cyber attacks.
China previously condemned the visa crackdown as “naked” political persecution and racial discrimination that seriously violated human rights.
China-US relations have continued on a downward spiral since Donald Trump’s presidency over disputes on trade and technology, to Hong Kong and China’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak.