All you need to know about China's espionage programme 'Operation Fox Hunt'

WION Web Team
New Delhi Updated: Jul 08, 2020, 11:57 AM IST

Representative Image  Photograph:(Reuters)

Story highlights

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Christopher Wray said the operation’s principal aim now was to suppress dissent among the diaspora.

What's Fox Hunt

Fox Hunt is an espionage operation kickstarted six years ago by Chinese President Xi Jinping. The covert operation was aimed at pursuing corrupt officials and business executives who had fled abroad. Beijing has celebrated its claimed successes, publicising the return of hundreds of economic fugitives, and issuing wanted lists of those still at large. The Obama administration complained about the activities of undercover agents in 2015.

Suppress dissent 

Sharing the details about the operation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Christopher Wray on Tuesday said the operation’s principal aim now was to suppress dissent among the diaspora. He told the Hudson Institute in Washington: “China describes Fox Hunt as some kind of international anti-corruption campaign. It is not. Instead, Fox Hunt is a sweeping bid by Xi to target Chinese nationals who he sees as threats and who live outside of China, across the world.

“We’re talking about political rivals, dissidents and critics seeking to expose China’s extensive human rights violations.”

'Return to China or commit suicide'

The FBI director said: “Hundreds of these Fox Hunt victims that they target live right here in the United States, and many are American citizens or green cardholders. The Chinese government wants to force them to return to China, and China’s tactics to accomplish that are shocking.

“For example, when it couldn’t locate one Fox Hunt target, the Chinese government sent an emissary to visit the target’s family here in the US. The message they said to pass on: the target had two options, returned to China promptly or commit suicide.”

Coercive tactics 

Wray said that Fox Hunt operations, directed by China’s ministry of public security, were also underway in other countries, and the FBI had been cooperating with its partners to foil Chinese efforts at intimidation. He said Chinese nationals in the US were often coerced by thinly veiled threats against their families back in China.

Asked about other coercive tactics used, he replied: “Use your imagination. You’re not going to be far off.”

He appealed to anyone in the US who thought they were a Fox Hunt target to “please reach out to your local FBI field office”.

Wray portrayed China as an aggressive rival with little or no regard for international or national laws. He said that nearly half the FBI’s 5,000 active counter-intelligence cases were China-related.

2020 US presidential election

Although he did not say whether China-backed either Donald Trump or his presumptive Democratic rival, Joe Biden, he claimed China was pushing its preferences for the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

“China’s malign foreign influence campaign targets our policies, our positions, 24/7, 365 days a year,” Wray said. “So it’s not an election-specific threat; it’s really more of an all-year, all-the-time threat. But certainly, that has implications for elections and they certainly have preferences that go along with that.”

The FBI director said that China was also involved in mass hacking, identity theft and intellectual property espionage, and there are 1,000 investigations into “China’s actual and attempted theft of technology” in all the bureau’s 56 field offices.