In the early afternoon of September 2018, two Chinese men, dressed casually in black track pants and white t-shirts, knocked on the front door of a quiet New Jersey house. They appeared like typical suburbanites arriving for a friendly house party. 

Yet, there was something strange in the aggressive manner of their knocks and the frustration of their mannerisms when greeted by the house’s silence. Before they left, they taped a note in Chinese to the front door:

“If you are willing to go back to the mainland and spend 10 years in prison, your wife and children will be all right. That’s the end of this matter.”

These mysterious men were covert Chinese Ministry of Public Security (MPS) operatives on a mission known as Operation Fox Hunt.

And they were being watched by an FBI surveillance team. 

The Origins of Operation Fox Hunt

Operation Fox Hunt was created by the MPS in 2014. With almost two million members, the MPS is the main Chinese security agency and under the direct control of Communist Party leadership. The goal of Operation Fox Hunt is ambitious — to repatriate overseas Chinese fugitives guilty of economic crimes. Operatives from Fox Hunt have been sent to Southeast Asia, Europe, Canada, Australia, and the United States. According to the Chinese Ministry of Public Security by 2015, approximately 930 suspects had been captured, including more than 70 who had willingly returned to China. 

Chinese fugitive Lai Changxing is escorted back to Beijing from Canada at Beijing International Airport on July 23, 2011. (Reuters)

These operations are very popular in China. Since Xi Jinping came to power, a central part of his rule has been anti-corruption. In China, particular venom is reserved for Communist Party bureaucrats or wealthy citizens that have fled abroad. These pariahs are often viewed as the ultimate traitors, willing to steal from their own people, yet privileged enough to flee to countries often antagonistic to China. 

Coercion, Cyber Harassment, and Cheap Newspaper Ads

Fox Hunt operatives employ a variety of coercion tactics. They often operate in the large diaspora Chinese communities and enter under diplomatic cover, trade or tourist visas, or pose as students. Common tactics include cyber harassment, phone calls, and the use of family members in China as leverage. Tactics can also be very creative. In 2018, an unidentified Fox Hunt operative bought full-page ads in Ming Pao Daily, a Chinese language newspaper available in Canada. The ads accused a Chinese citizen in Canada of being a fugitive Communist Party official, listing his Chinese passport number, birthdate, Chinese citizen ID number, and urging the man to give himself up.