WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Tuesday announced the arrest of a Chinese professor and the indictment of five other Chinese citizens in what it contended was a decade-long scheme to steal microelectronics designs from American companies on behalf of the Chinese government.
The indictment, under a provision of the Economic Espionage Act that is used only in cases where the government believes it can prove the theft was on behalf of a foreign power, was the largest since five members of the People’s Liberation Army were indicted last year, accused of hacking into the computer systems of American companies to steal technology for state-owned Chinese companies.
None of those five officials have been arrested or seen in an American courtroom, and for a time those indictments froze discussions between the United States and Chinese governments over rules for reducing online attacks. But the chief of the national security division of the Justice Department, John P. Carlin, recently defended the approach as the best way to “raise the price” for the Chinese.
In the current case, however, authorities arrested a Chinese professor as he landed Saturday at Los Angeles International Airport on his way to a conference, a move clearly meant to signal to China that the United States would now aim to capture and try those accused of perpetrating what the former head of the National Security Agency, Keith B. Alexander, often called “the greatest transfer of wealth in history.”
Prosecutors said that the professor was Hao Zhang, 36, of Tianjin University, which dates back to 1895 and advertises itself on its website as China’s “first university”…