In 2020, New York City police officer Baimadajie Angwang was arrested for acting as a secret agent for China, according to the Associated Press. Angwang, a former U.S. Marine, spent six months in a federal detention center before he was freed on bail while awaiting trial on charges that he fed information about New York’s Tibetan community to officials at the Chinese consulate. Abruptly, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn dropped the charges on Jan. 19, saying only that they were acting “in the interest of justice.” Now Angwang says he wants to be reinstated to the police force, which suspended him with pay while the case was pending. More than that, he wants answers. “Why did you start the investigation on me? Why did you drop all the charges?” said Angwang, who was born in Tibet but was granted political asylum in the U.S. as a teenager. “We want an explanation. We’re demanding it because you owe me,” he said. “You can’t just put me in jail for six months and ruin my name, ruin my reputation and give all this stress to my family members and friends, and then you say, ‘in the interest of justice.’ You just going to leave it like that?”
China’s Communist Party has ruled over Tibet for seven decades and China has claimed a vast stretch of the Himalayas as part of its territory since the 13th century. The relationship has been fraught with tension, with many Tibetans — some in exile — seeking independence. The original charge against Angwang was that he began supplying information to Chinese officials on Tibetan independence groups in New York in 2018. Prosecutors said Angwang was a threat to national security. He was charged with being an unregistered foreign agent, making false statements to federal investigators, obstruction of justice, and wire fraud. There were no allegations of espionage. Prosecutors argued that Angwang provided intelligence on ethnic Tibetans who might cooperate with Chinese officials and advised them on how to expand China’s “soft power” in New York. The government said he sought a tit-for-tat arrangement that would give him a 10-year visa to his homeland in return for surveillance information and access to the police department. The case was built partly on recorded phone calls in which authorities said Angwang called a consular official “big brother” and “boss.” Angwang said his words were either mistranslated from Mandarin or taken out of context. He said he became superficially friendly with Chinese officials because he needed the visa to visit his homeland, so his parents and other relatives could meet his daughter.