OCTOBER 28, 2020
John Demers speaks during a Department of Justice news conference with Christopher Wray on Oct. 28. – Photographer: Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images/Bloomberg
The Justice Department announced that eight Chinese operatives were charged for allegedly carrying out an illegal law enforcement operation in the U.S. aimed at pressuring dissidents to return to China.
The operatives were acting as agents of the People’s Republic of China in carrying out what’s known as Operation Fox Hunt, which the Chinese government portrays as an effort to track down “legitimate fugitives,” John Demers, head of the department’s national security division, told reporters on Wednesday. The eight included five people who were arrested in the U.S., Demers said.
“With today’s charges, we have turned the PRC’s Operation Fox Hunt on its head — the hunters became the hunted, the pursuers the pursued,” Demers said. “The charges announced today are an unambiguous statement that the United States will not tolerate this type of flagrant conduct on our shores.”
Faced with an escalating series of actions by U.S. officials, China has retaliated in kind, and tensions between the two nations are at their highest in a generation. The Chinese embassy didn’t immediately respond to an emailed request for comment on the latest move.
“The defendants, allegedly acting at the direction and under the control of PRC government officials, conducted surveillance of and engaged in a campaign to harass, stalk, and coerce certain residents of the United States to return to the PRC as part of a global, concerted, and extralegal repatriation effort,” according to a criminal complaint unsealed by the Justice Department.
According to the complaint, the individuals harassed and conducted surveillance of a resident of New Jersey, who wasn’t identified, and his family in an unsuccessful effort to force them to return to the China. One victim, FBI Director Christopher Wray said, was even told he had to make a choice between returning to China or committing suicide.
China directed its operatives to coerce people in the U.S. from 2016 to 2019, according to the complaint.
U.S. officials have previously issued warnings about Operation Fox Hunt, which they’ve described as a “rogue law enforcement” operation to suppress dissidents and critics.
Chinese officials seek out hundreds of Chinese nationals living in the U.S. and pressure them to return to China under the operation, rather than go through legitimate law enforcement channels, the U.S. says.