Yanjun Xu, 42,
Yanjun Xu, 42, was said to have targeted employees at American aviation companies, including GE Aviation, and solicited proprietary information at the behest of the Chinese government, court documents showed. Image Credit: Twitter

The first Chinese spy to be extradited to the US was sentenced to prison for attempting to steal trade secrets from Western aerospace companies, in a landmark case for American efforts to thwart Chinese industrial espionage.

Yanjun Xu, a deputy division director of China's Ministry of State Security, was handed a 20-year jail sentence by a federal court in Cincinnati, the Department of Justice said in a release on Wednesday. The 42-year-old was said to have targeted employees at American aviation companies, including GE Aviation, and solicited proprietary information at the behest of the Chinese government, court documents showed.

"This case is the latest example of the Chinese government's continued attacks on American economic security and, by extension, our national security," FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement. "This brazen action shows that the Chinese government will stop at nothing to put our companies out of business to the detriment of US workers."

The US has long accused China of economic espionage, but previous indictments of Chinese intelligence officers have been largely symbolic since the individuals involved would never leave the country to face trial.

Read more: Chinese Spy Wanted GE's Secrets, But the US Got China's Instead

Xu's case was the first where the US was able to bring an alleged Chinese spy to court after extraditing him from Belgium in 2018, providing a rare look at some of the mechanisms behind Beijing's economic espionage efforts.

China's Foreign Ministry previously said that US accusations in the case were "completely fabricated," and demanded the case be handled in a fair manner.