A few years ago, the FX Network had a popular television series called The Americans. A period spy drama set in the Cold War 1980s, it portrayed a couple who moved to the United States to assimilate, live and work as Americans, but were secretly officers in the KGB.
Meet Ka Zeng and Fei Zhang. She (Ka) is a professor of political science at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, Arkansas. He (Fei) is a Senior Director at the corporate headquarters of J.B. Hunt Transport Services, Inc., one of the largest trucking and logistics companies in the United States. They have lived in Northwest Arkansas for over 20 years.
However, their careers began in an unusual way for a seemingly assimilated immigrant couple in the American South. They attended college together at China Foreign Affairs University (CFAU). Now, CFAU is not just any university in China. Jointly run by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Education, the university refers to itself as “the cradle of Chinese diplomats.”
Following graduation, according to his LinkedIn profile, Zhang worked for the Chinese Foreign Service in Finland as a Desk Officer for Northern Europe for seven years. He even speaks Finnish. Essentially, he was a spy. His wife, Ka, went the academic route, receiving her Masters and Ph.D. in Virginia. They moved to Arkansas in 2000.
Fei worked a year as an analyst for a Walmart vendor, then landed a job at J.B. Hunt, a Fortune 500 trucking and logistics firm headquartered in Arkansas. With no degree in transportation or logistics, he eventually worked his way up to be Director of Intermodal Transportation and is now a Senior Director at the company.
Ka joined the faculty of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and eventually became Director of Asian Studies. She now serves as a Professor of Political Science and Director of International and Global Studies. She has been an active researcher and writer and has traveled widely during her academic career.
Interestingly, one of the fields Professor Zeng has studied is trade and transportation. She gave a presentation at the Conference on Trade and Investment under the Belt and Road Initiative in 2020. Her presentation is embedded below. Her co-author on the paper was Xiaojun Li, Professor of Political Science at the University of British Columbia and, as it turns out, also an alumni of China Foreign Affairs University.
A review of Ka Zeng’s Curriculum Vitae shows she has written or co-authored a number of articles, papers and presentations on China’s Belt and Road Initiative, one of the key foreign trade and economic programs of the Chinese government.
Among her international presentations, she traveled to Hong Kong in 2016, Beijing in 2015, Guangzhou in 2014, and Beijing in 2012 and 2011. Her CV does not list travel prior to 2010. From 2016-2018, she was a Public Intellectuals Program Fellow with the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations. This organization co-hosted Chairman Xi Jinping for a dinner and policy speech in Seattle in 2015.
Her husband Fei also traveled back to China for work. He is listed as a speaker at the Global Cold Chain Summit within the last few years. As a senior executive with one of America’s premier logistics and logistics technology companies, no doubt, he has access to a lot of information and data the Chinese government would likely be very interested in.
The couple does pretty well for themselves. Intrepid Research reviewed their property records. In 2003, they bought a lot and built a home, estimated at $130,000. They took out an $85,000 mortgage, which they paid off the next year. In 2007, they purchased a home in Fayetteville, Arkansas listed for $420,000. They took out an $80,000 mortgage for the purchase and paid that off the next year.
The couple do not appear to be defectors, otherwise, they would not be traveling back and forth to China. Immigration and citizenship status is unclear, however, according to public records, Professor Zeng is registered to vote and actually voted in November 2016 and November 2018. Hmm.
After reviewing all of the information that our investigation has uncovered, it may not be the case that they are some sort of super spies as depicted in The Americans. However, the primary question that should be asked is why would two trained Chinese “diplomats” be living in Arkansas for 20 years, not working as diplomats? It’s very curious.