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With Beijing’s Spies Overseas, Chinese Americans Face Threats At Home And Abroad

We know that we are constantly being watched. Every time we speak out, we put our families as well as ourselves at risk.


Last week, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) unveiled three cases, which accused five individuals, including Chinese Americans and Chinese nationals, of “stalking, harassing, and spying on” Chinese dissidents in the United States on behalf of China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS), sending shock waves within overseas Chinese communities. 

According to the DOJ’s press release, MSS is “more than an intelligence collection agency. It executes the Chinese government’s efforts to limit free speech, attack dissidents, and preserve the power of the Communist Party.” MSS is known to deploy illegal tactics to intimidate the Communist party’s political rivals and dissidents inside China. But in recent years, MSS has felt emboldened to reach its long arms beyond China’s border to suppress dissenting voices overseas.

Other nations that seek to repatriate criminals in foreign countries usually go through official channels by working with local legal systems. But China decided to take the matter into its own hands. It launched Operation Fox Hunt and Operation Sky Net in 2014. These programs seek to bring overseas Chinese “criminals” back to China, bypassing judicial systems in other countries.

China claims it has successfully brought more than 8,000 “criminals” to face justice in China. Among the captured are high-level Chinese officials, businessmen who were accused of committing financial crimes, and political dissidents. 

Since the Chinese judicial system has a nearly 100 percent conviction rate, no one who was forced to go back should expect to receive due process or a fair trial. MSS’s brazenness has effectively intimidated many oversea Chinese from speaking out on sensitive political issues, fearing either themselves or their families in China may suffer the government’s retributions.

MSS often sends undercover Chinese police or security officials overseas, working with spies recruited locally or pressuring Chinese immigrants for assistance. According to a report, “In countries like Vietnam and Australia, Chinese agents have simply abducted their prey, whether the targets were dissidents or people accused of corruption. But in the United States, where such kidnappings are more difficult, Fox Hunt teams have relied mainly on coercion.”

The United States and China have no extradition treaty. Not surprisingly, the United States is the prime target of MSS’s Fox Hunt and Sky Net. FBI Director Christopher Wray said these programs “are not the actions we would expect from a responsible nation-state. Instead, it’s more like something we’d expect from an organized crime syndicate.” Furthermore, he pointed out, “It’s outrageous that China thinks it can come to our shores, conduct illegal operations, and bend people here in the United States to their will.”

In October 2020, the Trump administration’s DOJ charged eight people, including seven Chinese nationals (one of them was police from Wuhan, China), of coercing a Chinese man in New Jersey to return to China to face “criminal charges.” The intimidation campaign occurred between 2016 and 2019, which included “surveillance and online harassment of the man’s adult daughter, unsolicited packages sent to the man’s home, and a threatening note left taped to his front door.”

Last week’s DOJ charges included three cases. One case involved a Chinese national trying to disrupt the political campaign of a naturalized U.S. citizen by planning violent acts. The target was a student leader in the Tiananmen protests who fled to the United States and is currently running for U.S. Congress.

The second case involved a Chinese American who used his support for the pro-democracy movement as a cover to spy on other Chinese pro-democracy activists, and report their activities and information to Beijing. According to DOJ, at least one activist he reported — a Hong Kong democracy activist — was later arrested in Hong Kong. The victim of the third case was Arthur Liu, the father of American figure-skating Olympian Alysa Liu. Arthur fled China after organizing student protests in 1989.

The day before the DOJ disclosed these cases, a Chinese dissident who was also an immigration lawyer in New York City was murdered by a Chinese woman on a student visa. The victim was Li Jinjin, who came to the United States after spending two years in jail due to his participation in the 1989 pro-democracy protest in Beijing. So far, Li’s murder has been treated as an ordinary homicide. But given Li’s political activism and what we have known about MSS, his murder has raised many questions.

Chinese immigrants feel trapped between a rock and a hard place. The CCP thinks it owns us and can control what we say and do, no matter where we live. We don’t know whom to trust within the Chinese community because Chinese government agents and spies are among us. Some in our community willingly do the government’s dirty bidding, and others are pressured into it because their families and loved ones back home have been threatened.

Regardless of their reasons, these agents and spies endanger the safety of the rest of us, especially for people like me who don’t shy away from criticizing the CCP for the evil it commits. We know that we are constantly being watched. Every time we speak out, we put our families as well as ourselves at risk. Who knows what kind of evil plots are being planned against us.

Outside of the Chinese-American community, we don’t always feel welcomed. Criminals see us as easy prey. Anti-Asian hate crimes continue to rise in some of America’s most progressive cities (see here and here). It doesn’t matter how long we have lived in the United States, some Americans treat us as perpetual outsiders who do not belong. Others believe all people of Chinese descent are spies of the Chinese government and constantly question our American patriotism.

In today’s politically divided America, those of us who choose to support the Republican Party fall to the bottom of the American left’s racial hierarchy. Leftist media has no interest in publishing our work or making our voice heard, because how dare we not follow the left’s lead but insist on having our thoughts and beliefs?

I’m troubled by the “canceling everything Russian” madness after Russia invaded Ukraine. Witnessing Russian artists, athletes, and even cats boycotted is an unsettling experience. So many Americans are unwilling to separate Russian people from the oppressive regime.

I cannot help but wonder if China invades Taiwan or gets into a direct military conflict with the United States, will there be a “cancel everything Chinese” movement? Will I be forced to defend my patriotism? Will both the left and the right cancel me or my books and writings? How many friends will I have left?

I don’t know the answers to these questions. I only know that many Chinese Americans feel trapped in an unwinnable situation with hostility from all sides. All I can do is use my platform to urge everyone not to judge all Chinese Americans with a group label or a group identity that the Chinese government defines.

Ayn Rand reminded us, “The smallest minority on earth is the individual.” Each of us is accountable for our own words and behaviors. Condemn and criticize when there is clear evidence to support your judgment, but please don’t cast the blame indiscriminately on all of us. As these DOJ cases have demonstrated, most victims of the CCP’s aggressions are people of Chinese descent.

This article was originally published at “Helen Raleigh Speaks.”