As US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo goes on an anti-China roadshow in South and Southeast Asian countries, the US has also stepped up efforts on US soil by abruptly charging eight people with "involvement in China's Fox Hunt anti-graft campaign," smearing it as an operation that targets dissidents and critics of Chinese leaders rather than economic crime suspects.
Operation Fox Hunt targets Chinese suspected of economic crimes, who have fled overseas, and seeks to recover their illicit gains. The US has been one of the most popular destinations for corrupt officials and heads of major state-owned companies, and a place to transfer large amounts of funds to through money laundering and underground banks. Most of the fugitives are suspected of corruption, accepting bribes, embezzlement, abuse of power and misappropriation of public funds.
US Justice Department officials claimed that the eight suspects sought to "harass, stalk and coerce" US residents to return to China as part of Operation Fox Hunt, and that Beijing had used the program to target dissidents rather than economic crime suspects, media reported.
"With today's charges, we have turned the PRC's Operation Fox Hunt on its head - the hunters became the hunted, the pursuers the pursued," John Demers, the assistant attorney general for national security, said in a virtual news briefing. He was accompanied by FBI Director Christopher Wray.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry Wang Wenbin on Thursday firmly defended the country's international anti-corruption efforts, urging the US "to immediately stop groundless smearing and avoid becoming the haven of criminals."
Chinese law enforcement agencies carry out foreign cooperation in strict accordance with international laws, fully respect foreign laws and judicial sovereignty, and protect the lawful rights and interests of criminal suspects, Wang noted.
The Wednesday event marked a striking reversal in cooperation in anti-corruption enforcement activities between China and the US, and came amid an increasingly complicated spat between the two countries a week ahead of the US elections.
It was the latest clear manifestation of the escalation in the China-US conflicts, and Washington will not cease to harass Beijing in every way before Election Day. The Trump administration is using the topic to shift public attention from its chaotic domestic situation, Li Haidong, a professor at the Institute of International Relations of the China Foreign Affairs University, said.
Li noted that it also radically undermined the well-established bilateral cooperation mechanism in the repatriation of overseas fugitives, went against the track of righteousness and sadly politicized and poisoned China-US judicial cooperation.
According to the website of China's top anti-corruption regulator, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) of the CPC, China and the US have been stepping up anti-graft cooperation since Operation Fox Hunt was launched in 2014.
The US and other countries that had not yet established an extradition treaty with China signed the Beijing Declaration on Fighting Corruption at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders' Meeting in Beijing in November 2014. Under the agreement, leaders — including those from the US — said they were "committed to strengthening cooperation and coordination on repatriation or extradition of corrupt officials as well as confiscation and recovery of corruption proceeds, and where appropriate, through the use of anti-corruption mechanisms and platforms such as the APEC Network of Anti-Corruption and Law Enforcement Agencies."
In December 2014, the two sides - under the auspices of the China-US Joint Liaison Group on Law Enforcement Cooperation - held a meeting, during which they reached new agreements in the field of enhancing anti-graft cooperation. This was followed by the first meeting between then Chinese Public Security Minister Guo Shengkun and the US Secretary of Homeland Security.
Both sides affirmed their commitment to work closely, along with other law enforcement agencies, to improve information sharing on repatriation and fugitive cases, and provide regular status updates on cases of interest for which sufficient evidence had been provided. The two participants acknowledged that neither country should serve as a safe haven for fugitives, and that each intends to endeavor to effectuate removals of such individuals within the bounds of their respective laws.
The 2016 return of one of China's most-wanted economic fugitives, Yang Xiuzhu, who was accused of embezzling more than $40 million while working as a public servant in China, and was detained in the US in 2014 after she tried to enter the country using a fake Dutch passport, served as a good example of China-US cooperation in the field.
Observers and international legal scholars reached by the Global Times questioned the purported connection between the eight suspects and Chinese law enforcement authorities, saying that Chinese officers would ask for local judicial assistance and go through formal procedures to conduct activities under Operation Fox Hunt, "so the suspects involved in the case could have nothing to do with Fox Hunt."
US media outlets do not care about the reality at all, and they are just after a good story, if anything, said Shen Yi, director at the Research Center for Cyberspace Governance of Fudan University.
Shen also floated a theory that the US Justice Department, headed by Attorney General William Barr, who has been dubbed as a tool of US President Donald Trump, is targeting the Fox Hunt operation to help out fugitive Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui in return for a favor from him. The favor was supposedly posting a sex video of Joe Biden's son on his GTV website to deal a blow to Trump's rival in the presidential election.
Guo is wanted for graft and is a high-profile name on the Interpol red notice list. He has lived in the US since leaving China, and claims to be a dissident. US media has previously exposed Guo, along with Steve Bannon, as being a driver of anti-China forces, cooking up a rumor that COVID-19 was engineered in a Chinese lab.