A FedEx pilot who was arrested in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou is suspected of smuggling weapons and ammunition, Beijing said Friday, accusing the man of carrying hundreds of air gun pellets.
The American pilot had 681 pellets with him when he was searched at the airport on September 12 ahead of a flight to Hong Kong, said foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang, adding that the man was released on bail pending trial.
Hong Kong has been plunged into months of pro-democracy protests and unrest, and Beijing has repeatedly accused foreign governments of helping to support the protesters.
Geng said the man served as a deputy pilot for a FedEx cargo plane on September 11 and he entered Guangzhou the next day.
"Guangzhou Baiyun Airport customs found a suspicious box with 681 air gun pellets in the luggage of an American outbound passenger," Geng said at a press briefing Friday.
A FedEx spokeswoman told AFP that Chinese authorities in Guangzhou detained and later released one of their pilots on bail, and confirmed media reports that named the pilot as Todd Hohn, a former US Air Force pilot.
The case was first reported by the Wall Street Journal, who said Hohn had more than two decades military experience, including some time at the Pentagon.
FedEx is facing multiple investigations in China, where it has come under fire for delivery irregularities related to technology giant Huawei.
A Chinese government probe launched in June accused FedEx of holding up more than 100 packages from Huawei, which is facing moves by the United States to blacklist it.
The row also comes as Beijing and Washington face off in a trade war in which both sides have exchanged steep tariffs on hundreds of billions of exports.