National Security

Reports: Chinese Government Agents in United States Might be Violating Laws by Pursuing Fugitives

U.S. officials issue warning to Chinese about ‘Operation Fox Hunt’

Chinese President Xi Jinping / AP

Chinese government agents might be violating U.S. laws as part of a clandestine campaign to repatriate Chinese fugitives in America, the New York Times reports.

U.S. officials have issued a warning to their Chinese counterparts about the aggressive repatriation campaign, known as Operation Fox Hunt. Chinese President Xi Jinping has initiated an anti-corruption drive in recent months to apprehend officials accused of bribery both at home and abroad, but critics say he has also targeted dissidents who have protested against corruption.

The Times reports:

American officials said they had solid evidence that the Chinese agents — who are not in the United States on acknowledged government business, and most likely are entering on tourist or trade visas — use various strong-arm tactics to get fugitives to return. The harassment, which has included threats against family members in China, has intensified recently, officials said. […]

China and the United States do not have an extradition treaty, and State Department officials would not say whether the warning carried any threats of penalties. Mark Toner, a State Department spokesman, declined to comment about the diplomatic warning but said that "generally speaking, foreign law enforcement agents are not permitted to operate within the United States without prior notification to the attorney general."

It is a criminal offense, he said, "for an individual, other than a diplomatic or consular officer or attaché, to act in the United States as an agent of a foreign power without prior notification to the attorney general."

One of the reported fugitives is Ling Wancheng, whose brother was a top staffer for China’s former president and has been accused of bribery and other serious offenses. Ling lived under an alias in a sprawling mansion near Sacramento, Calif., last year, but his current whereabouts are unknown.

Ling would be the most prominent Chinese defector in decades if he chose to seek asylum in the United States. The Wall Street Journal reported that Chinese government agents questioned Tommy Yuan, a U.S. resident whose ex-wife reportedly lived with Ling at the California mansion, about Ling’s location:

Mr. Yuan said the two men who visited him in June accused Mr. Ling of making money illegally and bringing a large sum into the U.S.

"One of them was very serious and said: ‘If you help us, maybe we can help you,’ " said Mr. Yuan. "That’s when I realized these aren’t the kind of guys you can joke with."