Chinese spies in the United States thought to be a hunting a man who’s been called the ‘most significant defector in decades’ have been warned by the White House to stop the search.
The United States has sent a warning to Beijing about Chinese agents it says are operating covertly in America while working to pressure fugitives such as suspected defector Ling Wancheng to return to China.
Operation Fox Hunt is part of a worldwide effort by Beijing to repatriate fugitives, – including some suspected of corruption and recover funds suspected of being tied to criminal activity.
The State Department warned China in recent weeks to stop the agents’ activities, the New York Times reported on Sunday.
Ling, 55, and the rest of those allegedly being sought by China are believed to be prominent expatriates, some wanted for economic corruption or for what China considers political crimes.
China’s former president, Hu Jintao, employed Ling’s brother Ling Jihua as an aide and he was accused of bribe-taking, adultery and illegally obtaining state secrets in July following an investigation by the Communist Party, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The suspected defector, who was living under an alias in California for much of last year, might have gotten sensitive information about Chinese leaders via his brother, according to diplomats.
If he were to seek asylum, Ling – who moved to the US in 2013 or 2014 after working at China’s state-run news agency Xinhua would be ‘the most significant Chinese defector in decades’.
He has not officially been accused of any wrongdoing in China and his name was not on a list of 40 people Chinese officials want deported that was given to the US nor has his name been asked about via diplomatic channels, people briefed on the matter told the Journal.
According to US officials cited by the Times, the agents, working undercover for China’s Ministry of Public Security, were likely entering the United States on trade or tourist visas and using ‘various strong-arm tactics’ to pressure expatriates to go back home.
Such tactics included threats against relatives in China and they had intensified in recent months.
The newspaper cited Ministry of Public Security figures that more than 930 suspects worldwide had been repatriated under the program since last year.
Chinese President Xi Jinping is scheduled to make his first state visit to the US next month as the countries seek to resolve tensions over such issues as trade, human rights and hacking.
The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.