Operation Fox Hunt (Chinese: 猎狐专项行动) is a Chinese covert global operation whose stated aim is anti-corruption under Chinese Communist Party general secretary Xi Jinping's administration. It has led to the arrest of over 40 of its 100 most wanted globally. The program has also been accused of targeting Chinese dissidents living abroad to stop their activism under the guise of returning corrupt Chinese nationals to China to face criminal charges.
Operation Fox Hunt was launched in June 2014. In the course of six months during 2015 Operation Fox Hunt repatriated 680 people to China.
In 2015 Operation Fox Hunt scored its first big success in Europe with the arrest and extradition of a woman surnamed Zhang from Italy. It was the first time a European country had extradited someone to China on accusations of financial crimes.
In March 2017, Ningxia investigators and Paris embassy personnel “successfully persuaded” fugitive Zheng Ning to come home, after he lived in France for three years before his mysterious disappearance. Despite an extradition treaty between France and China, French officials were not informed on the repatriation, leading to French intelligence to lodge a complaint. Paul Charon, an expert on China at the French defense ministry's Institute for Strategic Research, says “It also shows a bigger phenomenon: the hardening stance of the regime in Beijing, which dares to carry out these operations overseas and mock the sovereignty of other countries.”
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) publicly acknowledged to The Globe and Mail that China is using threats and intimidation against members of Canada's Chinese community that are akin to the tactics used in Operation Fox Hunt. CSIS said that “these tactics can also be used as cover for silencing dissent, pressuring political opponents and instilling a general fear of state power no matter where a person is located.”
Announced in 2015, operation Skynet is a parallel and simultaneous program designed to augment operation Fox Hunt by restricting the financial flows of cadres which have fled overseas and engaging in recovery of corrupt proceeds. South China Morning Post reports that programme will "go further" than previous manhunts through the coordination of multiple government agencies to cut off the exfiltration of state and corrupt assets abroad.
"Since 2014, Chinese General Secretary Xi Jinping has spearheaded a program known as “Fox Hunt.” Now, China describes Fox Hunt as some kind of international anti-corruption campaign—it is not. Instead, Fox Hunt is a sweeping bid by General Secretary Xi to target Chinese nationals whom he sees as threats and who live outside China, across the world. We’re talking about political rivals, dissidents, and critics seeking to expose China’s extensive human rights violations.
Hundreds of the Fox Hunt victims that they target live right here in the United States, and many are American citizens or green card holders. The Chinese government wants to force them to return to China, and China’s tactics to accomplish that are shocking. For example, when it couldn’t locate one Fox Hunt target, the Chinese government sent an emissary to visit the target’s family here in the United States. The message they said to pass on? The target had two options: return to China promptly, or commit suicide. And what happens when Fox Hunt targets refuse to return to China? In the past, their family members both here in the United States and in China have been threatened and coerced, and those back in China have even been arrested for leverage."
In 2015, the Obama administration protested the use of undercover intelligence agents as part of Operation Fox Hunt. In 2020 Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director Christopher A. Wray gave a speech at the Hudson Institute in New York where he talked at length about Fox Hunt and said the purpose of Fox Hunt is political repression not anti-corruption. According to Wray, targets are given the option of returning to China or committing suicide. Wray also asserted that targets of the operation were coerced into compliance through arrests of family members and friends back home in China in use as leverage against the targets in order to exert psychological pressure.
In October 2020, five people were arrested by the FBI in relation to their participation in Operation Fox Hunt and charged with conspiring to act as illegal agents of the People's Republic of China (PRC) and conspiracy to commit interstate and international stalking. An additional three people believed to have absconded to China were charged with similar offences.
In July 2021, a federal grand jury indicted nine individuals for acting and conspiring to act in the United States as illegal agents of the PRC and engaging and conspiring to engage in interstate and international stalking; two of those nine were also charged with obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Six of the nine were previously indicted in the October 2020 case and a May 2021 indictment; the July 2021 indictment is superseding (taking the role of the previous indictment). The individuals are alleged to have surveilled, harassed, stalked, and coerced American residents to return to China, sometimes threatening family members if they failed to comply. The Justice Department accuses Tu Lan, a prosecutor of the Hanyang People's Procuratorate and one the indicted, of directing the surveillance campaign and subsequent destruction of evidence to obstruct the American investigation into their activities. One of those targeted by the alleged conspirators is accused of having accepted bribes as a Chinese official.