In a sign the U.S government is losing patience with Chinese industrial espionage, it charged six Chinese nationals with economic espionage, saying they stole secrets from two military contractors, the Department of Justice said on Tuesday.
The arrests mark the third time in as many years that U.S. authorities have made accusations of economic espionage toward China.
Professor Hao Zhang, one of the suspects, was arrested on Saturday in Los Angeles after he arrived on a flight from China. The other five suspects have already fled to China.
Zhang and two other professors from Tianjin University were charged with stealing source code from chipmakers Avago Technologies Ltd and Skyworks Solutions Inc, where they worked.
Tianjin, one of China’s oldest university institutions, is located about 100 miles southeast of Beijing.
Both companies manufacture Film Bulk Acoustic Resonator (FBAR) technology, which is used in mobile devices like cellphones, tablets and GPS devices, but also has military applications.
Between 2006 and 2007, the spies hatched a plan to start manufacturing the technology in China and met with Tianjin University officials, prosecutors said.
If convicted, the spies could be sentenced to up to 50 years in prison each.
The indictment against the six was released at a time of intense diplomatic activity between the two major world powers and comes as Secretary of State John Kerry was in China for the weekend, partly to prepare for a U.S. visit by President Xi Jinping coming later this year.