The Chinese authorities have warned Washington that they may detain Americans in response to the US Justice Department’s prosecution of Chinese military-affiliated scholars, the Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday, quoting unidentified officials.

The warning comes on the back of a series of arrests of Chinese scientists visiting American universities, according to the report. Officials told Wall Street Journal that the scientists were charged for allegedly concealing their links with China’s People’s Liberation Army from the US immigration authorities.

Following the arrests, China reportedly issued a number of warnings through multiple channels, the report said.

In a travel advisory issued in September, the US state department had warned against travel to China saying that the Chinese government uses arbitrary detention and exit bans for US citizens and others “to gain bargaining leverage over foreign governments”. Last month, the United States said it had revoked visas for more than 1,000 Chinese students under a presidential measure denying entry to students and researchers deemed security risks. Beijing denounced the decision and said that the move amounted to “racial discrimination”.

Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, John Demers, Head of US Justice Department’s national security division said, “If China wants to be seen as one of the world’s leading nations, it should respect the rule of law and stop taking hostages.” He, however, refused to comment on this specific matter.

In June, China had indicted two Canadians on charges of espionage – a move that was widely seen as a response to Canada’s arrest of a prominent Chinese executive at Huawei Technologies.