The Obama administration reportedly has warned the Chinese government to stop sending intelligence agents to the U.S. in an effort to persuade Chinese expatriates to return to their home country.
The reported warning comes amid a period of growing tension between Washington and Beijing over several issues. Among them are the theft of U.S. government personnel data in a cyberattack thought to have been carried out by China, and the devaluation of the country's currency earlier this month, in a move that rocked the global economy.
According to The New York Times, undercover agents for Beijing's Ministry of Public Security have entered America, likely on trade or tourism visas, and used " various strong-arm tactics" to pressure migrants to return home. U.S. officials told the paper that the tactics included making threats against relatives still in China.
The Beijing government has dubbed the initiative Operation Fox Hunt, and claims it is part of renewed efforts to stamp out corruption in the communist country. According to the Times, the Ministry of Public Security says that more than 930 corruption suspects had been returned to China from all over the world since the beginning of 2014. It is not clear how many returned from the United States, nor is it clear how many Chinese expatriates in the U.S. are currently being sought by Beijing.
Chinese agents are prevented by law from making arrests on foreign soil, and Beijing does not have an extradition treaty with Washington. Mark Raimondi, a Justice Department spokesman, told the Times that Chinese agents are required to give evidence to the department before U.S. law enforcement could act.
On several occasions, Raimondi said, "China has not provided the evidence we have requested."
Experts who have examined the names of China's top 100 fugitives tell the Times that they don't believe those listed are truly high-priority criminals, but are rather targeted by Beijing for so-called "political crimes."
U.S. officials told the Times that both the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security have been gathering information about the activities of Chinese agents in the U.S., interviewing several of the expatriates in the process. However, the officials declined to discuss specific activities by the agents.