China has been targeting its own nationals living in other countries, especially those involved in rights activism or who are critical of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, with threats, often made by agents of the state in person on U.S. soil, the head of the FBI has warned.
"Since 2014, Chinese General Secretary Xi Jinping has spearheaded a program known as Fox Hunt," FBI director Christopher Wray said in a speech this week at the Hudson Institute.
While Beijing insists that Fox Hunt is an international extension of Xi Jinping's international anti-corruption campaign, Wray said it is in fact a campaign targeting political rivals and critics who sought refuge outside the country.
"Fox Hunt is a sweeping bid by General Secretary Xi to target Chinese nationals whom he sees as threats and who live outside China, across the world," Wray said. "We’re talking about political rivals, dissidents, and critics seeking to expose China’s extensive human rights violations."
He said hundreds of people living in the U.S., including American citizens or green card holders, had been targeted by agents of the Chinese state as part of the operation.
"The Chinese government wants to force them to return to China, and China’s tactics to accomplish that are shocking," Wray said, citing one U.S. resident who had received an in-person visit from Chinese agents who had told them either to tell their relative wanted under Fox Hunt to return to China or to commit suicide.
And if targets of the operation refuse to go back to China, "their family members both here in the United States and in China have been threatened and coerced, and those back in China have even been arrested for leverage," Wray said.
He called on anyone who believes the Chinese government is targeting them to contact their local FBI office.
Wray said he had made the rare public speech because of the "significant" threat China's overseas activities represent such a large threat to U.S. national security and economic interests.
He said China had already hacked Equifax and taken sensitive personal information relating to 150 million people, around one-half of the U.S. population.
"Our data isn’t the only thing at stake here—so are our health, our livelihoods, and our security," Wray warned, adding that the threat didn't come from the Chinese people, nor from Chinese Americans, but from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime.
"We’ve now reached the point where the FBI is opening a new China-related counterintelligence case about every 10 hours," Wray said.
"At this very moment, China is working to compromise American health care organizations, pharmaceutical companies, and academic institutions conducting essential COVID-19 research," he said.
"China is engaged in a whole-of-state effort to become the world’s only superpower by any means necessary," he said, citing cyberattacks, espionage and "outright physical theft" as among Beijing's tactics.
He said China is also engaged in a "highly sophisticated malign foreign influence campaign," using bribery, blackmail, and covert deals to advance its economic interests, adding that many in the U.S. are being had "over a barrel" by the CCP.
Wray cited reports of the imposition of CCP cells on U.S. companies as a prerequisite to doing business in China.
He said Huawei is a serial intellectual property thief with a pattern and practice of law-breaking and right violations.
"If Chinese companies like Huawei are given unfettered access to our telecommunications infrastructure, they could collect any of your information that traverses their devices or networks," Wray warned.
"Worse still: They’d have no choice but to hand it over to the Chinese government if asked," he said.
"China, as led by the Chinese Communist Party, is going to continue to try to misappropriate our ideas, influence our policymakers, manipulate our public opinion, and steal our data," he said.
Reported by RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.