WASHINGTON — Two Chinese diplomats were arrested last week on suspicion of espionage and ordered to leave the country, a published report said today.
The State Department acknowledged that the Chinese Embassy was told on Dec. 22 to arrange the departure of the two diplomats because they were "engaged in activities incompatible with their diplomatic status." It said the men have since left but refused to elaborate further.
Department spokeswoman Phyllis Oakley said the incident was the first time Chinese diplomats had been asked to leave the United States since the two countries established formal relations in January, 1979.
Asked what was the state of U.S.-Chinese relations after the incident, Oakley told a news briefing: "The same as they were. There is no change in the relationship."
The FBI arrested the men after one of them, an assistant military attache at the Chinese Embassy, received what he thought were classified National Security Agency documents, The Washington Times said.
Citing an unidentified source close to the case, the newspaper said the assistant military attache was arrested on Dec. 21 by FBI agents while he and a double agent working for the U.S. government were sitting in a restaurant in Washington's Chinatown section.
It was not immediately known if the second diplomat was also at the restaurant.
Approached Double Agent
One of the diplomats had approached the double agent and asked for specific equipment and documents from the NSA, the newspaper said.
An unidentified Chinese Embassy spokesman contacted by the newspaper was quoted as saying, "I don't know about that," when asked about the expulsions.
FBI agent Lane Bonner declined comment on the arrests and expulsions in a telephone call early today.
The arrests followed a yearlong investigation by the FBI's Washington field office, the newspaper reported, adding that the State Department declared them personae non-grata the next day before ordering them to leave the country.