More evidence uncovered of Chinese spy programs that target expatriates

Chinese Ministry of State Security

AN INVESTIGATION INTO THE activities of China’s state security apparatus has uncovered more evidence of the existence of a worldwide spy operation aimed at forcibly repatriating fugitives and dissidents living abroad, including many who reside in Western countries. The operation, code-named FOXHUNT (first reported in 2015), and a sister-project, code-named SKYHUNT, were launched in 2014. They reportedly constitute a major pillar of the nationwide campaign against corruption, which was initiated in 2012 by Chinese Premier Xi Jinping. This extensive campaign is so far believed to have led to the indictment of over 100,000 people for financial crimes, though critics say it is also being used by Xi to neutralize political opponents and dissidents across China.

The investigative group ProPublica, which carried out the study of FOXHUNT and SKYHUNT, said on Thursday that the same techniques used to capture international fugitives wanted for financial crimes, are also employed against expatriates who criticize the Chinese state’s politics. Most of the targets of these operations live in countries that are located near China —such as Vietnam, Laos, or Malaysia. Thousands of others, however, live in Western Europe, Australia and the United States, where “hundreds of people, including US citizens”, have been targeted by the Chinese state, according to ProPublica.

Operations FOXHUNT and SKYHUNT are carried out by “undercover repatriation teams” of Chinese government agents, who allegedly enter foreign countries “under false pretenses”, according to ProPublica. At the same time, Chinese intelligence officers enlist expatriates as assets and use them as “intermediaries to shield Chinese officers”, said the report. These intermediaries are coached to “relentlessly hound their targets”, or surveil their activities and report about them to their handlers.

In several countries, including Vietnam and Australia, Chinese “undercover repatriation teams” have at times abducted their targets, “defying with impunity [local] laws” and international borders, the ProPublica report claims. But in countries like the United States, the Chinese tread more lightly, relying mainly on coercion aimed at compelling their targets to voluntarily return to China. In many cases, according to the report, authorities in China have subjected their targets’ family members to “harassment, jail [or] torture”. Allegedly, they have even recorded “hostage-like videos” that were shown to the targets of the repatriation operations, in an effort to force them to return to China.

Alongside wealthy Chinese tycoons with oversized offshore bank accounts, repatriation targets have reportedly included political dissidents and whistleblowers who had managed to escape abroad. Other victims were members of the Tibetan or Uighur communities in exile, as well as followers of religious sects, such as the Falun Gong. The Chinese government denies that operations FOXHUNT and SKYHUNT exist. But critics claim that Beijing’s forced repatriation program is real, and reflects “the authoritarian nature of the Chinese government and their use of government power to enforce conformity and repress dissent”, ProPublica reports.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 July 2021 | Permalink

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