Chinese Covert Agents Warned Off U.S. Soil

The Obama administration has demanded Chinese law enforcement agents operating covertly on U.S. soil cease and desist, according to a story in The New York Times. The agents, working for the Chinese Ministry of Public Security, are alleged to be in the country under tourist or working visas for the purpose of intimidating high profile fugitives into returning home. The agents are believed to use threats against family members still in China.

The activity falls under the official Chinese Government Operations “Fox Hunt” and “Skynet.” It is illegal for law enforcement agencies to operate on foreign soil without permission except in the case of “hot pursuit,” when an agreement exists. The dispatch of agents to a foreign nation is considered under international law to be a breach of sovereignty. Under U.S. law, foreign law enforcement agents are required to notify the Attorney General and provide evidence to support permission to operate. It is understood that such evidence is not often forthcoming, possibly due to Chinese secrecy and differing standards of jurisprudence.

This diplomatic spat is the latest in a series of tense incidents between Beijing and Washington. The U.S. recently accused China of a cyber attack that compromised the data of millions of public officials, and China’s recent market manipulation, as well as their devaluation of the Yuan, has stirred tensions between the two governments. China’s assertiveness with regard to foreign policy in recent years has caused concerns amongst the international community, and has put the U.S. in an awkward position with regard to China, having to simultaneously act as one of China’s biggest trading partners and reprimand them for their conduct.

China has been caught out in this way before, with covert law enforcement agents in Australia pursuing a bribery suspect without permission. Australian law enforcement detected the activity and demanded that it cease.

While the stationing of clandestine and covert agents in other countries is common practice, with the U.S. almost certainly maintaining a large cadre of spies and agents on Chinese soil and vice versa, more or less blatant violations of sovereignty such as Operation Fox Hunt are viewed as unacceptable by the majority of the international community. China’s response, reported in state-run Xinhua news agency, is typical of its apparent disregard for well-established international norms. The Chinese Communist Party frequently boasts about the activities of its covert agents abroad, especially with regard to operations like Fox Hunt. In response to the warning, China made the astonishing claim that the Director of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, approved the use of covert agents to further the aims of Operation Fox Hunt.

“In April 2015, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson…promised to actively support China’s ‘Sky Net’ and ‘Fox Hunt’ operations, which aim to bring back corrupt officials. So the U.S. government’s decision to force China’s law enforcement stuff to leave the country obviously reveals that Washington lacks sincerity and has failed to translate its words into action.”

While it is likely that this bombastic approach is to a large extent tailored for home consumption, it is unhelpful in the context of international relations, especially in light of the upcoming state visit of Chinese Premier Xi JinPing.

No extradition treaty exists between China and the U.S.

[Image via ChinaFotopress/Getty Images]