Days after Jiang Bo, a Chinese national who worked at Nasa’s Langley Research Center, was arrested on a plane bound for Beijing and charged with lying to US authorities, his friends are protesting what they call “unfair media coverage” that paints him into a Chinese spy.
People deserve to hear the other side of the story, especially in a country that prides itself in its independent and free press, they say.
“[Calling him a spy] is total nonsense,” Xing, a longtime friend and former schoolmate of Jiang, wrote on Mitbbs.com, a popular forum for Chinese expats studying and working in the US.
Xing explained that Jiang was not 'fleeing' US as reported by some media. Jiang was leaving the US on a one-way ticket after he had learned his contract with Nasa would not be renewed. Jiang was headed back to China to spend time with his family, before reporting to a new job in Europe.
According to an FBI affidavit, when agents asked Jiang what electronic media he had with him during the investigation, Jiang told them he had a mobile phone, a memory stick, an external hard drive and a new computer. But agents later found an extra laptop, an old hard drive and a Sim card.
“From the way FBI agents asked these questions, Jiang could easily have been misled into thinking to mention only the objects in his carry-on, but not his checked-in luggage,” Xing wrote in Jiang's defence.
“His spoken English isn’t so good, and I wonder if he had explained himself clearly, especially when he could have been really nervous,” Xing added.
What surprised Xing and other friends were media reports following Jiang’s arrest.
Even though the charge against Jiang was “lying to federal agents”, some reports have implied that Jiang could be a Chinese spy.
They also said they were disheartened by comments made by US congressman Frank Wolf of Virginia, chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds the space agency, who said in a press conference on Monday:
“What they [the Chinese] did here potentially could be a direct threat to our country.”
Xing said: "Jiang was simply an unfortunate political scapegoat."
Xing and other friends are seeking legal aid online to help Jiang, whose hearing is scheduled for Thursday.
On the other side of the Pacific, news of Jiang’s arrest has triggered heated discussions on China’s social media.
“FBI answers to America’s national interests, and they have a right to question him,” wrote a blogger on weibo. “What the Chinese government and secret police do to its citizens to maintain so-called stability is far worse.”
“Was it possible for a Chinese national to access [US] national secrets in the first place?” said another blogger.
Last month, a US computer security company claimed that a secretive Chinese military unit was believed to be behind a series of hacking attacks. China had denied the accusations and said it was in fact the victim of US hacking.