The FBI arrested five alleged Chinese agents on Wednesday, charging them with a scheme to force a former Chinese official living in New Jersey to return to China with his family, where he would spend ten years in prison on corruption charges.
Chinese officials angrily denounced the U.S. for interfering with their “Operation Fox Hunt” anti-corruption crusade.
The five men arrested by the FBI in New Jersey, New York, and California on Wednesday morning were charged with working as illegal agents of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on a mission to “harass, stalk, and coerce” Chinese immigrants to return home for punishment under the Operation Fox Hunt “anti-corruption” program implemented by dictator Xi Jinping in 2014.
One of the people arrested by the FBI is a private investigator named Michael McMahon, who allegedly provided intelligence on the victim and his wife. The FBI said three other members of the conspiracy are still at large in China.
The target of these Chinese agents was a former Chinese city government official who moved to the United States in 2010. The suspects forced the target’s father to pay a surprise visit from China in 2017 with the goal of convincing the target to return. The following year, the Chinese agents stuck a note on his door threatening consequences for his wife and children if he did not return to China and “spend ten years in prison.” Later they began sending threatening messages to the target’s daughter and her friends on social media.
“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,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers said on Wednesday.
“The Chinese government’s brazen attempts to surveil, threaten, and harass our own citizens and lawful permanent residents, while on American soil, are part of China’s diverse campaign of theft and malign influence in our country and around the world,” added FBI Director Christopher Wray.
Also on Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that an organization called the National Association for China’s Peaceful Unification (NACPU) as a foreign mission of the PRC.
“The goal of this action is to shine a light on this organization and make clear that their messages come from Beijing, as we did when we designated the Confucius Institute U.S. Center (CIUS) as a foreign mission in August,” Pompeo said.
According to the U.S. State Department, the NACPU is controlled by the United Front Work Department (UFWD), a CCP organ “tasked with co-opting and neutralizing threats to the party’s rule and spreading its influence and propaganda overseas.”
Pompeo added that a number of other Chinese organizations are under scrutiny for “seeking to spread Beijing’s malign influence in the United States.” He announced that the United States will no longer participate in the U.S.-China Governors Forum to Promote Sub-National Cooperation, which has been corrupted by Beijing’s efforts to “directly and malignly influence state and local leaders to promote the PRC’s global agenda.”
Chinese officials and state media responded with outrage to both the FBI arrests and Pompeo’s action against the NACPU. China’s state-run Global Times denounced the FBI arrests as a “smear” against China’s noble effort to collar corrupt government officials.
“Operation Fox Hunt targets Chinese suspected of economic crimes, who have fled overseas, and seeks to recover their illicit gains. The U.S. has been one of the most popular destinations for corrupt officials and heads of major state-owned companies, and a place to transfer large amounts of funds to through money laundering and underground banks. Most of the fugitives are suspected of corruption, accepting bribes, embezzlement, abuse of power, and misappropriation of public funds,” the CCP paper insisted.
The Global Times quoted Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin demanding the United States “immediately stop groundless smearing” and told it to “avoid becoming the haven of criminals.”
Despite the thuggish tactics outlined in the FBI indictment, Wang insisted Operation Fox Hunt and other Chinese law enforcement programs “carry out foreign cooperation in strict accordance with international laws, fully respect foreign laws and judicial sovereignty, and protect the lawful rights and interests of criminal suspects.”
The Global Times rounded up the usual “Chinese experts” to claim the true reason for the FBI action was a crude effort by the Trump administration to leverage anti-Chinese sentiment in the United States for votes and distract the public from America’s “chaotic domestic situation” before Election Day.
These “Chinese experts” insisted that the operatives arrested by the FBI could not possibly have anything to do with Operation Fox Hunt, because their conduct did not meet the high standards for international cooperation set by Chinese law enforcement.
Another Global Times article on Thursday slammed Pompeo for his “malicious slander” against the NACPU. The Chinese Foreign Ministry accused Pompeo, currently on a tour of the Indo-Pacific region, of “spreading influence and propaganda overseas.”
The same Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman who criticized the FBI arrests, Wang Wenbin, claimed U.S. politicians are “fabricating lies” to discredit the Chinese political system. He insisted the NACPU and other United Front Work Department projects are high-minded efforts to “bring together people from different parties, organizations, and ethnic groups, and to enhance cooperation between the Communist Party of China and those from other parties or organizations.”
“Wang added that the malicious accusations made by some U.S. politicians are political manipulation made out of ideological prejudices, exposing the ideology of a new McCarthyism that runs counter to the interests of people from both countries,” the Global Times wrote.
Wang claimed the U.S. withdrawal from the U.S.-China Governors Forum is “against the will of its people” and told Pompeo to “stop repeatedly concocting lies and going further down the wrong path.”