Singaporean’s Ph.D Adviser Says He’s Glad Ex-Student Caught for Spying

A Chinese-American academic linked to a Singaporean consultant who pleaded guilty to acting as a spy for Beijing said he was happy that his former student was apprehended by U.S. authorities.

Huang Jing confirmed to Bloomberg Television that he served as a Ph.D adviser to Dickson Yeo a few years ago, when both were at National University of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. Yeo admitted Friday that he provided information to Chinese intelligence and knowingly recruited others in the U.S. to do the same, according to a U.S. Department of Justice statement.

Singaporean’s Ph.D Adviser Says He’s Glad Ex-Student Caught for Spying

“I was really surprised, but I’m glad that he was caught,” said Huang, who’s now a distinguished professor and dean at Beijing Language and Culture University’s Institute of National and Regional Studies. “He impressed me as someone who is shy, but also humble. But he has this kind of hunger for being somebody. You know self-imposed importance -- after that I don’t have much impression of him.”

Yeo’s case has led to renewed interest in Huang’s 2017 expulsion from Singapore, where he had been a visiting professor at the prestigious policy school. Authorities in the city-state revoked Huang’s permanent residency after accusing him of using his position to covertly advance the agenda of an unnamed foreign country at Singapore’s expense. Huang, who’s an American citizen, denies the claim.

Huang said he had a few meetings with Yeo over the course of a year at the Lee Kuan Yew school, but never saw the Singaporean student after he left to be visiting scholar in the U.S.

The Yeo case was one of numerous spying allegations traded by the U.S. and China in recent days, as the Trump administration took the unprecedented step to close the Chinese embassy in Houston. On Monday, Chinese officials took over the American consulate in Chengdu, which Beijing had ordered closed in retaliation Friday.

While each side accused the other’s diplomats of compromising their national security, the Trump administration went further, with officials telling a briefing Friday that the FBI has about 2,000 active cases related to Chinese counterintelligence operations in the U.S. Separately, U.S. officials said they took custody of a Chinese researcher who had taken shelter at the country’s San Francisco consulate after she was charged with trying to hide her military background.

Singaporean’s Ph.D Adviser Says He’s Glad Ex-Student Caught for Spying

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a regular news briefing Monday that he was “not aware” of Yeo’s case.

“I want to say that U.S. law enforcement departments, in order to smear and pressure China, have been hyping up this so-called Chinese infiltration and spying,” Wang said in Beijing, accusing the American side of its own espionage activities. “We hope the U.S. will stop using this so-called spying issue to smear China.”

Huang said he and Yeo had discussed the student’s plan for a dissertation on Singapore’s foreign policy and how small countries could impact relationships among major powers or between the U.S. and China. “It’s quite interesting, but after that there’s no follow up,” Huang said.

Asked whether China commonly used students to gather information from foreign countries, Huang said that he wasn’t familiar with such cases. “All of this has to be done under the table,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a public campaign and so, for a scholar like me, I’m not aware of things like that.”

Huang described President Donald Trump’s policies on China as “quite unpredictable” and suggested that given the right conditions China might be willing to cool tensions down.

“If the U.S. does something further to challenge China, China will retaliate and that will lead to a downward spiral,” Huang said. “But if the U.S. -- especially President Donald Trump -- will not go any further, China is very happy to stop right here.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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