The Obama administration has warned Beijing about the presence of Chinese agents in the United States who are secretly attempting to pressure prominent expatriates to return home to China immediately.
Citing anonymous U.S. government officials, the New York Times reports that the Chinese efforts are part of a global program, called Operation Fox Hunt, to coerce Chinese expats and fugitives into returning home.
The Chinese fugitives in the United States are often prominent officials or figures, wanted for what the Chinese view as economic corruption or political crimes, officials said. American officials said they believe Chinese agents use strong-arm tactics to get them to return home, and that they have increased pressure recently.
The Chinese view such tactics as part of a broader campaign against corruption under Chinese president Xi Jingping. More than 930 suspects have been repatriated, including more than 70 who have returned this year voluntarily, China’s Ministry of Public Security reported in June.
The United States’ Central Intelligence Agency has spies in China, and there are Chinese operatives in the United States whose goal is to steal political, economic, military and industrial secrets. But the recent program differs in that Chinese agents are in the U.S. with the aim of returning home alleged dissidents.
It’s a crime for Chinese agents to operate in the United States “without prior notification to the attorney general,” a Justice Department spokesman told the Times.
The Obama administration’s warning to Beijing is likely to increase tensions between the two countries ahead of an official visit by President Xi Jingping to Washington next month.