In Li’s luggage, [FBI] agents found two large Pop Weaver microwave popcorn boxes. Buried under the bags of unpopped snack kernels were roughly 300 tiny manila envelopes, all cryptically numbered—2155, 2403, 20362. Inside each envelope was a single corn seed. In Ye’s luggage, agents found more corn seeds hidden amid his clothes, each one individually wrapped in napkins from a Subway restaurant. Customs officers were dispatched to the gate area for the Beijing flight, where they found the two men and conducted body searches. Still more corn seeds, also folded into napkins, were discovered in Ye’s pockets.
—Ted Genoways writing in The New Republic about China’s efforts to steal American food technology in order to increase its domestic corn production and reduce reliance on American imports. The story of agricultural espionage is a high stakes cat and mouse game reminiscent of Englishman Robert Fortune’s theft of tea seeds from China in the 1800s.