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Chinese-American woman jailed in US for trying to sell advanced military equipment

A Chinese-American woman has been jailed for more than four years in the United States after she was busted in an undercover ­operation trying to buy and export advanced military equipment to China through third places such as Hong Kong.

A Florida district court sentenced Man Wenxia, or Wency Man, to 50 months in prison on Friday for violating the Arms ­Export Control Act. Man had sought to export engines used in the F-35, F-22 and F-16 fighter jets, and an unmanned aerial vehicle worth US$50 million as well as related technical data, ­according to prosecutors.

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She stood to make US$1 million on the deals, the local Sun Sentinel quoted Judge Beth Bloom as saying. The defendant had pleaded not guilty and said she would appeal.

Man, a 45-year-old mother of two, was born in China and moved to the US, eventually earning citizenship in 2006. The court heard that between March 2011 and June 2013, she conspired with Zhang Xinsheng, who was living in China, to illegally buy and ­export the military items.

The Sentinel reported that Man, who ran a business with her husband producing small electronic components, asked an “industry source” whether a jet fighter engine would be difficult to export, according to trial testimony.

The person she spoke to reported her to authorities, and the Department of Homeland Security launched an investigation.

In discussions with an undercover agent, Man referred to Zhang as a “technology spy” who worked on behalf of the Chinese military to copy items obtained from other countries, according to evidence.

Zhang had told her he was particularly interested in stealth technology, she said. She was arrested last year and convicted on June 9.

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China has being trying for years to improve the quality of its fighter jet engines and allocated 150 billion yuan in 2010 to develop home-grown technology so the military wouldn’t have to rely on Russia to supply them.

The US imposed an arms embargo on China in 1990, a year after the crackdown on pro-democracy movement.

Macau-based veteran military watcher Antony Wong Dong said: “It’s little surprise Man’s imprisonment is in relation to F-22 and F-35, akin to many other cases of its kind. This reflects the fact the Chinese military always keeps a close eye on matters relating to fighter jet engines,” adding they were the Achilles heel of the PLA.

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Last month Su Bin, a 51-year-old Chinese national admitted in a Californian court to participating in a years-long conspiracy to steal military technology. Su, who has a background in the People’s Liberation Army, was charged with hacking into the computer networks of major US defence contractors to steal technical data, including in relation to F-35 and F-22 fighter jets. He was jailed for 46 months.

During the course of Man’s trial, she displayed unusual behaviour, texting the undercover officer who was a witness against her messages in Putonghua. Translations of the texts were not made public.

Psychologists said she suffered from depression and anxiety but understood the charges against her. The judge ordered she receive treatment while in jail and after her release.