Beijing affirms 2022 guilt of UK entrepreneur for spying allegations

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Longstanding British Businessman Sentenced in China on Espionage Charges

News came from the source of Reader Wall in Beijing on January 26 that a prominent British businessman resident in China, Ian J. Stones, was given a five-year prison term in 2022 on accusations of espionage.

Spokesperson’s Statement on the Case

The spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry, Wang Wenbin, announced the news but didn’t reveal any specifics relating to the charges when questioned about the case at a daily press conference. Instead, he stated Stones was found guilty of selling his loyalty to ‘external forces’ and supplying them with confidential intelligence.

Concerns About Operating in China

The American and UK governments have previously issued warnings about the potential for detainment under China’s national security laws. In fact, an employee of a Japanese pharmaceutical company was taken into custody last year, suspected of espionage. China’s new version of the law, effective July 1, 2023, has heightened these concerns among foreign operating businesses in the country.

Stones was about 70-year-old and had worked in China for close to 40 years, his past employers being Pfizer and General Motors. He started his own consultancy firm, Navisino Partners, nearly 15 years ago. These details did not become public knowledge until recently.

Greater Clarity is Required

Foreign business associations and governments called for better transparency surrounding what activities foreign companies are permitted to carry out under the new law, previously known as the anti-espionage law. Tighter constraints over data transferring to other parties, and defining what data is linked to national security, is a pressing concern.

Last year, raids on three foreign companies, two consultancies, and a due diligence firm further alarmed the business sector.

Warnings by UK and US Government

The UK government cautioned about the risk of arbitrary detainment in China and the sprawling reach of the national security law. Their foreign travel advice clearly states, “You may be detained even if you did not intend to break the law.”

The U.S. travel advisory claims that Chinese authorities seem to have sweeping power to classify a wide range of documents, data, statistics or materials as state secrets and arrest and prosecute foreign individuals for alleged espionage. This includes businesspeople, ex-government officials, scholars, journalists and relatives of Chinese involved in legal disagreements.

Stones appealed his conviction, but his original ruling was upheld by a court in September, Mr. Wang stated. He declared that the case was conducted ‘according to the law,’ safeguarding the legitimate rights and interests of both Chinese and foreign parties concerned.

The British Foreign Office refused to comment on the case.


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