On Thursday, two U.S. Navy sailors stationed in California were arrested and charged for passing sensitive national defense information and military secrets to Chinese agents. This incident comes at a time when the United States and China are grappling with mutual suspicion and attempting to maintain their long-standing economic ties. The gravity of this situation cannot be undermined, as the leaked information compromises U.S. national security and raises concerns about the relentless efforts of the People’s Republic of China to undermine democracy.

Both sailors arrested, Petty Officer Wenheng Zhao and Jinchao Wei, held security clearances. Their actions have led to sensitive military information falling into the hands of the Chinese government, which raises questions about the effectiveness of security protocols and background checks.

The charges against the two sailors involve conspiracy, bribery, and espionage, which come under the Espionage Act statute. Wei’s indictment states that he had contact with a Chinese government intelligence officer and provided photographs and videos of the ship he served on, including technical and mechanical manuals and details about upcoming exercises involving Marines.

The U.S. Department of Justice disclosed that the two sailors sent critical information to Chinese intelligence officers, including a radar system blueprint, technical manuals for vessels, operational plans for military exercises in the Indo-Pacific, and specifics about defensive weapons. The compromised information could pose significant threats to national security.

Suzanne Turner, assistant director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, has emphasized the aggressive efforts of China to undermine U.S. democracy. The alleged espionage reflects the strategic attempts of the People’s Republic of China to infiltrate and gain access to sensitive military information. This incident is not an isolated event, as it follows the detection of a Chinese spy balloon over the United States and the leak of classified U.S. military documents on a chat platform popular with gamers.

Jinchao Wei served on the USS Essex, an amphibious assault ship known as a Landing Helicopter Dock. This type of ship has a full flight deck and can carry various helicopters, making it a valuable asset for the U.S. Navy. The leak of sensitive information about this ship and its operations raises concerns about national security vulnerabilities.

The arrests have added strain to the already tense relations between the United States and China. While Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s trip to China took place in June, the lingering tensions between the two nations remain. Such incidents of espionage further exacerbate the mistrust between the two countries and have the potential to escalate diplomatic issues.