A U.S. court sentenced a Chinese intelligence official to 20 years in jail on Wednesday (Nov. 16) for stealing technology from U.S. and French aerospace industries, according to the Justice Department.

A federal jury found Xu Yanjun guilty in November 2021 on charges of conspiring and attempting to commit economic espionage and trade secret theft. He was the first Chinese spy extradited to the U.S. for trial.

He was accused of taking the lead in a five-year plot to steal trade secrets from GE Aviation, one of the world's top aircraft engine producers, and the French Safran Group, which was collaborating with GE on engine development.

The Chinese Ministry of State Security intelligence agent was detained in Belgium in April 2018. It appears that he had been drawn into a counterintelligence operation since he had intended to meet a GE employee while abroad secretly. He was extradited to the US, tried, and found guilty of attempted economic espionage, attempted trade secret theft, and two associated conspiracy offenses on November 5, 2021.

"Xu targeted American aviation companies, recruited employees to travel to China, and solicited their proprietary information, all on behalf of the government of the People's Republic of China," the Justice Department said.

"This case sends a clear message: we will hold accountable anyone attempting to steal American trade secrets," Ohio federal prosecutor Kenneth Parker said.

In earlier court files, Xu's attorneys said that the 25-year request was excessive compared to the sentences imposed on other people guilty of comparable offenses. However, prosecutors had requested that punishment as a deterrent against future similar behavior.

"Today's sentence demonstrates the seriousness of those crimes and the Justice Department's determination to investigate and prosecute efforts by the Chinese government, or any foreign power, to threaten our economic and national security," US Attorney General Merrick Garland said.

Xu, 42, is charged with working for China's Ministry of State Security as a career intelligence official. Between 2013 and 2018, he is believed to have targeted several U.S. aviation and aerospace industries, including GE Aviation, a division of General Electric Co., using front companies and identities.

US officials assert that the Chinese government poses the greatest long-term threat to US economic and national security and is making unprecedented efforts to steal crucial technology from US companies and researchers. Last year, China's Foreign Ministry called the allegations against Xu "pure fabrication."

The Chinese government, according to U.S. authorities, is making unprecedented attempts to steal vital technology from U.S. companies and researchers, posing the greatest long-term threat to U.S. economic and national security.