Dickson Yeo Jun Wei, the Singaporean charged for working as a China intelligence spy in the United States (US), had his PhD candidature terminated on Sunday (26 Jul).
A spokesperson for the National University of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP) said in a statement that his enrollment was terminated after Yeo pleaded guilty on Friday (24 Jul) to one charge of operating illegally as a foreign agent.
He is charged with using a fake consultancy business in the US as a front to collect sensitive US information for Chinese intelligence.
In his plea at the federal court in Washington, Yeo admitted to working between 2015 and 2019 for Chinese intelligence, targeting Americans with access to “valuable non-public information”.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said on Sunday (26 Jul) that it was informed by the US authorities of Yeo’s arrest in November last year.
“Investigations have not revealed any direct threat to Singapore’s security,” said a spokesperson for the ministry in response to media queries.
Yeo faces a maximum of 10 years imprisonment and will be sentenced on 9 October.
How Yeo executed the fake consulting business for Chinese intelligence
In court documents, it revealed that Yeo was tasked with creating a fake consultancy firm which offered jobs in the US.
The fake business was registered under the same name as a prominent US consulting firm that conducts public and government relations.
The website of one such company – which has since been removed – has Yeo’s name, email address and Singapore phone number. It was alleged that the company was “formed as a result of a brain-storm between multiple parties in Singapore and Shanghai”.
The company also claimed to serve as a “consulting bridge” between “multiple parties” and to offer “in-depth analysis on the risk and market entry issues centered on the Eurasian Region”.
The court documents further cited that Yeo received more than 400 resumes, 90 per cent of which were from US military or government personnel with security clearances.
He then gave the resumes that he thought were relevant to his Chinese employers.
Yeo’s connection with the People’s Republic of China government and People’s Liberation Army
Yeo’s first association with Chinese intelligence started in 2015 when he travelled to Beijing to give a presentation on the political situation in Southeast Asia. He was a candidate then for a PhD in Philosophy at the LKYSPP.
After his presentation, court documents noted that he was recruited by individuals who claimed to be China-based think tanks. They offered Yeo money in exchange for political reports.
“Yeo came to understand that at least four of these individuals were intelligence operatives for the PRC (People’s Republic of China) government. One of the intelligence operatives later asked Yeo to sign a contract with the PRC People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Yeo refused to sign the contract but continued to work for this and other (Chinese intelligence service) operatives,” a signed statement of facts said.
His task was to provide the PLA with information about international political, economic and diplomatic relations. They said they wanted “non-public information”.
Yeo was arrested after he returned to the US in November 2019. He planned to ask an informant for classified information during this trip.
Background of Yeo’s candidacy at LKYSPP
Yeo enrolled as a PhD student in LKYSPP’s Public Policy programme in 2015. In 2019 he was granted a leave of absence, the spokesperson for the school said.
During his candidacy, Yeo researched and wrote papers on China’s treatment of small states. He proposed a thesis titled “How does China treat small states of Strategic Value?” According to Yeo’s profile on the school’s website, his thesis proposal was approved in principle by LKYSPP in August 2017.
The 29 papers and presentations uploaded online revealed that he was also a visiting researcher at Peking University for International Relations and Public Policy.
Before becoming a PhD candidate at LKYSPP, Yeo was also an energy analyst at the NUS Energy Studies Institute in 2011.
Former top diplomat alleges that Yeo was supervised by an expelled Professor who was also a spy
In a Facebook post on Saturday, former top Singapore diplomat Bilahari Kausikan said that Yeo’s PhD supervisor at LKYSPP was former LKYSPP Professor Huang Jing. Mr Kausikan did not elaborate on how he attained this piece of information.
On 4 August 2017, Prof Huang was identified in 2017 as an “agent of influence for a foreign country” by the MHA.
Without naming the country, MHA said that Prof Huang “knowingly interacted with intelligence organisations and agents of the foreign country, and cooperated with them to influence the Singapore Government’s foreign policy and public opinion in Singapore”.
Prof Huang gave what he claimed was “privileged information” about the foreign country to prominent and influential Singaporeans, including to a senior member of LKYSPP, with the aim of influencing their opinions in favour of that country, MHA said.
Professor Huang says he’s glad Yeo was apprehended
Prof Huang said in an interview with Bloomberg Television on Monday (27 Jul) that he was “glad” that his former student was arrested by US authorities.
Huang Jing confirmed that he was Yeo’s PhD adviser a few years ago.
“I was really surprised, but I’m glad that he was caught,” said Huang, who’s now a professor and dean at Beijing Language and Culture University’s Institute of National and Regional Studies.
“He impressed me as someone who is shy, but also humble,” he said. “But he has this kind of hunger for being somebody. You know self-imposed importance – after that I don’t have much impression of him.”
When asked if China regularly recruited students to gather intelligence on foreign countries, Huang said that he was not aware of such recruitment.
“All of this has to be done under the table,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a public campaign and so, for a scholar like me, I’m not aware of things like that.”