WASHINGTON -- Eight Chinese agents have been arrested in the United States on charges related to their role in an operation meant to intimidate opponents of Beijing around the world, US officials announced Wednesday (October 28).
"The defendants, allegedly acting at the direction and under the control of PRC [People's Republic of China] 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 known as 'Operation Fox Hunt'", the US Justice Department said in a statement.
"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," said Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Christopher Wray.
"The FBI will use all of its tools to investigate and defeat these outrageous actions by the Chinese government, which are an affront to America's ideals of freedom, human rights, and the rule of law."
In one instance, a Chinese agent and several co-conspirators targeted an individual's adult daughter for surveillance and online harassment.
Specifically, the agent attempted to hire a private investigator to locate the individual's daughter in order to photograph and video record her as part of a campaign to exert pressure.
At about the same time, an unidentified co-conspirator sent harassing messages over social media to the daughter and her friends.
In other instances, Chinese agents sent packages to targeted individuals containing letters and videos with messages threatening harm to family members still residing in China.
"Today's charges reflect yet another example of China's ongoing and widespread lawless behavior -- and our refusal to tolerate it," said Wray.
Beijing Thursday (October 29) characterised the actions of its charged agents as complying with international law and respecting foreign jurisdictions and sovereignty.
The exposed plot in the United States is the latest evidence of Beijing's interference outside its borders.
One of Beijing's main strategies for coercion is debt.
It offers massive loans to vulnerable countries around the world ostensibly to help build their economy, but when these countries inevitably cannot pay the loan back, Beijing demands painful concessions.
Those have included either diplomatic support for Chinese interests or wholesale appropriation of a country's natural resources.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday called China a "predator" for engaging in such acts on small nations.