DOJ charges 8 individuals for allegedly ‘threatening’ Chinese citizens in the U.S. to return to China
The U.S. Department of Justice on Wednesday unsealed a complaint and arrest warrants charging eight individuals with conspiring to act as “illegal agents of the People’s Republic of China (PRC)” in an “international campaign to threaten, harass, surveil, and intimidate” Chinese citizens residing in the United States to return to China.
“The defendants, allegedly acting at the direction and under the control of PRC government officials, conducted surveillance of and engaged in a campaign to harass, stalk, and coerce certain residents of the United States to return to the PRC as part of a global, concerted, and extralegal repatriation effort known as ‘Operation Fox Hunt’,” the Justice Department statement said.
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Five of these defendants were arrested Wednesday morning by FBI agents and face the prospect of prison. The names of those arrested include Zhu Yong, Hongru Jin, Michael McMahon, Rong Jing, and Zheng Congying. The first three are set to be arraigned Wednesday afternoon via teleconference. The three who were not arrested “remain at large,” the statement said.
John Demers, the assistant attorney general for the department’s National Security division, said the other three are suspected to be in China, per Reuters.
“For those charged in China and others engaged in this type of conduct,” said Demers, “our message is clear: stay out. This behavior is not welcome here.”
FBI Director Christopher Wray had some additional strong words for China and other potential illegal agents of the authoritarian regime.
“The Chinese government’s brazen attempts to surveil, threaten, and harass our own citizens and lawful permanent residents, while on American soil, are part of China’s diverse campaign of theft and malign influence in our country and around the world,” he said. “The FBI will use all of its tools to investigate and defeat these outrageous actions by the Chinese government, which are an affront to America’s ideals of freedom, human rights, and the rule of law.”
Furthermore, the statement goes on to explain other aspects of this alleged plot, known within the PRC as “Operation Fox Hunt” and “Operation Skynet”:
“In furtherance of the operation, the PRC government targets Chinese individuals living in foreign countries that the PRC government alleges have committed crimes under PRC law and seeks to repatriate them to the PRC to face charges. Rather than rely upon proper forms of international law enforcement cooperation, such as Interpol ‘red notices’ and requests for information through appropriate governmental channels, the defendants allegedly engaged in clandestine, unsanctioned, and illegal conduct within the United States and facilitated the travel of PRC government officials (PRC Officials) to U.S. soil in order to further carry out these illegal acts. Between 2016 and 2019, multiple PRC Officials directed the defendants, and several others, to engage in efforts to coerce the victims to return to the PRC.”
It then details many of these specific instances where PRC government officials directed the aforementioned defendants, including one situation where they targeted a New Jersey resident and his family to try and force them to come back to China.
“The United States will not tolerate the conduct of PRC carrying out state-authorized actions on U.S. soil without notice to, and coordination with, the appropriate U.S. authorities,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Seth D. DuCharme. “Nor will we tolerate the unlawful harassment and stalking of U.S. residents to further PRC objectives.”
You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @Douglas_P_Braff.
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China Circles the Wagons Around TikTok
In follow up to the recent Congressional hearing on TikTok, Chinese state-run media was swift to condemn any scrutiny of the platform. China is claiming through its state-run media that criticism of TikTok is rooted in anti-China prejudice, that TikTok is harmless and not different from any other social media platform, and that it is the US, not China, that is the bad actor.
CCP Claims Scrutiny of TikTok Based on Prejudice Against China
According to China’s state-run media, the US is attacking TikTok out of racial and political prejudice towards China. Criticisms of TikTok based on security concerns amount to “casual, racially-charged slander” and a “Sinophobic witch-hunt,” according to Global Times. That same article claimed that TikTok “has a large target on its back simply because it is Chinese-owned.” Another Global Times article portrayed the Congressional hearing on TikTok as “xenophobic political grandstanding.”
And Chinese media used statements from Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) to launder its claim that concerns about TikTok stem from racism. China Daily quoted Bowman as saying: “…Let’s not be racist toward China and express our xenophobia when it comes to TikTok because American companies have done tremendous harm to American people.”
Another Global Times article portrayed the hearing as an “anti-Communist witch hunt,” while the same article claimed that “[t]he ghost of McCarthyism is haunting the US again.” Another Global Times article featured a political cartoon with a similar caption: “Ghost of McCarthyism haunts TikTok Hearing.”
CCP Claims that TikTok is an Innovator, and Not Different from Other Social Media
TikTok is a strong innovator not worthy of scrutiny, according to Chinese state-run media. TikTok is “an innovative app that has enriched the digital life of American people and benefited a lot of micro businesses in the US,” according to Global Times. TikTok “…is a global high-tech company representing openness, innovation, and vitality…,” according to another Global Times article. It is “a leader in digital technology and advanced algorithms” and “a competition for technology and competition for markets,” according to a third Global Times piece. It is “a massively successful business,” according to yet another Global Times article.
CCP media also claims that TikTok doesn’t pose any threat different from other social media. One Global Times article laments that there is a “plethora of international experts highlighting the massive hypocrisy that non-Chinese apps such as Facebook and Google harvest much more data than their Beijing-based rival,” and that there is “nothing to prove [TikTok] is a greater risk than any other social media.” TikTok’s CEO testified that “We are committed to be very transparent with our users about what we collect,” and that “I don’t believe what we collect is more than most players in the industry,” according to another Global Times article.
CCP Claims that Focus on TikTok Reveals US (not China) is Bad Actor
Chinese state-run media also tries to capitalize on the attention on TikTok to issue propaganda criticizing the US. The “witch-hunting against TikTok” show that the “US’ technological innovation is going downhill and the political farce against a tiny app has seriously shattered the US values of fair competition and its credibility,” states Global Times.
And the CCP media accuses the US of doing what China has doing for years: intellectual property theft. According to China Daily, the Congressional hearing “is just the latest attempt by the US to steal the company.” The “US has turned from a cradle of innovation into a robber,” according to another Global Times article.
China’s state-run media is once again trying to deflect and redirect attention away from China’s malevolent actions. With TikTok, China alleges that viewing TikTok in a critical light is racist, that TikTok is an innovative application worthy of praise, and that any criticism of TikTok reviews flaws with the US, not China. Given the platform’s increased popularity in the United States, it unfortunately appears that these CCP talking points are convincing a significant segment of the American population.
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