Five Chinese agents arrested in US for 'targeting' Beijing opponents
Five Chinese agents were arrested on Wednesday for allegedly targeting Beijing's opponents in the United States, the US Justice Department claimed on Thursday.
Assistant Attorney General John Demers said the Chinese agents face charges of "conspiring to act in the United States as illegal agents of the People's Republic of China."
Demers said the agents were involved in an "illegal Chinese law enforcement operation known as Fox Hunt."
Three of those charged -- Zhu Yong, 64, a Chinese citizen and permanent US resident; Hongru Jin, a 30-year-old naturalized US citizen; and Michael McMahon, a 53-year-old US citizen and licensed private detective -- were arrested in New York and New Jersey.
The other two -- Rong Jing, 38, a Chinese citizen and permanent US resident, and Zheng Congying, 24, a Chinese citizen and permanent US resident -- were arrested in California.
Three other Chinese agents -- Zhu Feng, 33; Hu Ji, 45; and Li Minjun, 64, -- remain at large and are believed to be in China, the Justice Department said.
"Since 2014, at the direction of Chinese General Secretary Xi Jinping, China has been engaged in a global operation known as Fox Hunt," Demers said at a press conference.
"China describes Fox Hunt as an international anti-corruption campaign in which it seeks to locate legitimate fugitives around the world and bring them to China to face genuine criminal charges," Demers said.
Demers said Chinese "repatriation squads" had entered the United States to "locate the alleged fugitives, and deploy intimidation and other tactics to force them back into China where they would face certain imprisonment or worse following illegitimate trials."
The Justice Department announcement comes at a time of rising tensions between the US and China over the coronavirus pandemic, which President Donald Trump has repeatedly blamed on Beijing.
China blasts US charges against agents
China on Thursday said the US was seeking to smear Beijing's efforts to pursue fugitives. Foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said China was engaged in a "just cause to fight transnational crime and pursue fugitives and stolen goods internationally."
"The US, out of ulterior motives, ignored the basic facts and discredited China's efforts," Wang told reporters at a daily briefing.
The US should "bear international responsibilities and avoid being a haven for criminals," Wang said, adding that China's agents abroad followed local laws and protected the "legitimate rights and interests of suspects."