A New York Police Department (NYPD) officer’s arrest has placed a spotlight on how the Chinese consulate seeks to infiltrate and influence local dissident communities.
Federal investigators found that he was feeding intelligence to the Chinese consulate in New York City, including on the activities of ethnic Tibetans in the New York area. He also developed intelligence sources within Tibetan communities, and helped consular officials gain access to senior NYPD officials through invitations to official NYPD events, according to federal prosecutors.
Angwang was charged for acting as an illegal agent for China, committing wire fraud, making false statements, and obstructing an official proceeding. He is being held without bail.
If convicted of all these charges, he faces up to 55 years of imprisonment, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Though ethnically Tibetan, court documents show that Angwang’s loyalty lies with the Chinese regime. In a 2018 conversation with his handler at the consulate, he described himself as an “asset” of the regime.
Since the Chinese Communist Party invaded the Tibet region, it has severely suppressed local customs and Tibetan Buddhist practices. Many Tibetans have fled persecution in China and thousands have settled in New York City.
Dorjee Tseten, executive director of Students for a Free Tibet, a New York-based advocacy group, said in a statement that the case “should be a wake-up call for all our leaders—at the federal, state and local level—about the alarming depth and reach of China’s espionage operations.”
He added that “Tibetans have long known the Chinese government is spying on our communities, even in a free country like the United States, and this incident shows the lengths to which Beijing would go to undermine the Free Tibet movement,” which believes in political separation between China and Tibet.
Angwang’s family has extensive ties to both the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Chinese military, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). According to the criminal complaint, his father has retired from the PLA while his mother is a retired Chinese government official. Meanwhile, his brother is currently a PLA reservist.
His parents are also members of the CCP, and the three family members live in China. Court documents did not indicate where in China.
Before his arrest, Angwang was assigned to NYPD’s community affairs unit, serving as a liaison to a portion of Queens serviced by the 111th Precinct.
Angwang began acting at the direction and control of officials at the Chinese consulate in New York since at least 2014, according to the DOJ.
His handler at the consulate was believed to be assigned to the “China Association for Preservation and Development of Tibetan Culture,” a division of China’s United Front Work Department (UFWD), according to court documents.
UFWD carries out foreign influence operations known as “United Front work” to “co-opt and neutralize sources of potential opposition” to the CCP, according to a 2018 report published by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC).
“United Front work serves to promote Beijing’s preferred global narrative, pressure individuals living in free and open societies to self-censor and avoid discussing issues unfavorable to the CCP, and harass or undermine groups critical of Beijing’s policies,” the report explained.
In the United States, cultural and friendship associations are one of many local groups guided or funded by the UFWD.
Angwang regularly referred to the Chinese official connected to the UFWD as “Boss” and the two exchanged texts and talked on the phone on at least 55 occasions between June 2018 to March 2020, according to the criminal complaint. On at least one occasion, Angwang addressed the official as “big brother.”
In a phone call in November 2018, Angwang suggested to the official that the latter needed to “develop” intelligence sources from Catholics, Muslims, or people of Hui ethnicity in the Tibetan community.
In another phone call in February 2019, Angwang identified a U.S. citizen of Tibetan ethnicity as a good intelligence source, who planned to run for political office again in the future after an unsuccessful campaign. Angwang said he would send information about the individual, including his past employment and family members, to the Chinese official.
The Epoch Times’ sister media, New Tang Dynasty Television (NTD), was a topic of conversation between Angwang and the Chinese official during a phone call in November 2019.
In the call, Angwang sought permission from the Chinese official on whether he could appear on NTD’s program “Xiaotian Interview,” saying he didn’t “dare to be too reckless.” According to the criminal complaint, NTD asked the NYPD for an officer with fluency in the Mandarin dialect as a candidate for its interview, and the NYPD responded by asking Angwang if he could do it.
In response, the Chinese official told Angwang he “absolutely shouldn’t do it” because “China is totally against [NTD]” due to its ties to Falun Gong.
“In the future, if you want to go back [to China] or something, it will have an enormous impact,” the official said, warning Angwang about the consequences if he were to appear on the NTD program.
“Once you go on their program, China does not differentiate whether you are FLG [Falun Gong] or not,” the official added, before adding that “China has not eased up on FLG.”
The Epoch Times and NTD were founded in 2000 and 2001 respectively by a group of Chinese-Americans who are adherents of the spiritual practice known as Falun Gong. They founded the media in order to bring a free press to China.
While The Epoch Times and NTD were founded by Falun Gong practitioners, they are independent businesses that don’t represent Falun Gong, nor are they owned by it.
Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is a spiritual practice with meditative exercises and moral teachings based on truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance. According to the Falun Dafa Information Center, there were 70 million to 100 million adherents prior to the Chinese regime’s persecution in July 1999. Since then, hundreds of thousands have been detained and tortured in jails, brainwashing centers, and labor camps.
The Chinese official asked Angwang to “come up with a suitable [reason]” to turn down NTD’s interview request.
Angwang also asked the Chinese official if the presence of NTD reporters at NYPD press conferences would be “a problem.” In reply, the Chinese official said: “You cannot block them from coming. It’s freedom of the press.”
According to the criminal complaint, Angwang informed his NYPD superiors that he did not want to be interviewed by NTD in January 2020.
It is unclear if officials at the New York Chinese consulate paid him for the information he provided. However, a conversation dated December 2018 between Angwang and the Chinese handler suggested that payments were made to Angwang.
During the phone call, Angwang said that he was willing to assist without the expectation of payment—“whatever is worth money or not worth money to your side.”
Moreover, investigators uncovered financial ties between Angwang and China beginning in 2014.
In January 2014, Angwang received two separate payments of $50,000 and $20,000 from an account at the Bank of China in New York.
In April 2016, Angwang wired $100,000 from a U.S. bank account to a bank account in China held by his brother. Angwang wired an additional $50,000 a month later to another Chinese account held by an unnamed individual. Also in May 2016, his brother wired Angwang $49,985.