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‘Fox Hunt 2014’: China’s Overseas Campaign Against Corrupt Officials

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‘Fox Hunt 2014’: China’s Overseas Campaign Against Corrupt Officials

China has found it very difficult to repatriate corrupt officials who have fled abroad.

‘Fox Hunt 2014’: China’s Overseas Campaign Against Corrupt Officials
Credit: Passports image via Shutterstock

After “beating the tigers” and “catching the flies,” China’s anti-corruption campaign rolled out a “fox hunt.” “Fox Hunt 2014” sounds like the name of a blockbuster movie, one about gangsters or spies. In fact, it’s the code name for efforts by Chinese public security officials to arrest suspected economic criminals in foreign countries. According to news reports, “Fox Hunt 2014,” which began on July 22, has scored significant victories. Still, under the domestic anti-corruption campaign, several big-name “tigers” and numerous “flies” are being brought down every week. By contrast, the “fox hunt” campaign hasn’t had many great successes. There are occasional reports of one or two corrupt officials being chased down and brought back to China, but that’s about it.

If China is going to continue to deepen the fight against corruption, the most important step will be cutting off the possibility of retreat for corrupt officials. Without an adequate legal system in place to fight corruption, the anti-corruption campaign relies mostly on deterrence and severe punishments, with the hope that officials won’t dare to be corrupt. In truth, in over thousands of years in Chinese history, this is the only way of fighting corruption that has had even a little bit of success. But today, this approach is discounted – because corrupt officials and transfer their assets abroad (or simply just abscond with money) as well as moving their families overseas.

If the current trends in anti-corruption continue, then China will gradually move toward systemic and legal methods for fighting corruption. One example would be instituting a “sunshine policy,” under which officials’ assets would be registered and made public. Under those circumstances, even the greediest officials would think twice before turning corrupt. However, if Beijing can’t cut off officials’ ability to transfer assets abroad, then corrupt officials can flee to foreign countries, out of the reach of Chinese law. Then the guilty party gets a light punishment while his sons and daughters are still enjoying stolen money in the West. Under these circumstances, no matter how much effort we put forth to fight corruption, there’s no way to prevent corruption. Officials will simply put in place an escape route.

This is why I believe the “fox hunt” is of the most importance, along with continuing to hunt “tigers and flies” domestically. But compared to “tigers” (which make huge targets) and “flies” (who are everywhere and can be easily caught), the “foxes” are quite cunning. Unless I’m mistaken, the Ministry of Public Security’s “Fox Hunt 2014” has had only limited success. Otherwise, why would the Supreme People’s Court, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, the Ministry of Public Security, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs jointly issue a notice urging overseas “economic criminals” to turn themselves in (as they did on October 10)?

According to media reports, this notice was an important step taken to pursue the criminals. Is asking corrupt officials to “surrender” really “pursuing” them? The corrupt officials have a knife at their throat – will any of them actually be willing to turn themselves in? Does the government really expect those officials who are living abroad, enjoying a degenerate lifestyle, to voluntarily surrender? When I was trying to figure this out, I suddenly realized the truth – the government predicts that it won’t be able to “hunt” the “foxes” down, so it’s trying to lure the “foxes” home by promising leniency.

The authorities do place great importance on this “fox hunt,” but they’ve run into a lot of problems. The biggest difficulty for an overseas “fox hunt” is that Chinese and foreign judicial systems are different. Currently, only a few dozen countries have a judicial extradition agreement with China. The Western countries that corrupt officials like the most are not included in that number. For example, noted fugitive Lai Changxing was returned to China from Canada only after much difficultly. His case required the personal involvement of China’s top leaders and several Politburo meetings. After being brought back, Lai still complains bitterly from his prison cell in Fujian. He complains that Canada sold him out, and that China didn’t keep a secretly-made promise that he would be released from prison for “medical reasons.”

It’s very difficult to establish an extradition system, due to both politics and to differing definitions of what constitutes “corruption.” I encountered this problem years ago, when I was trying to track down corrupt officials who had fled to the West. These officials almost always brought confidential documents along with them, or leaked some “national secrets” to Western countries. If that failed, they could always claim to be the targets of “political persecution.” Under these circumstances, Western nations aren’t going to be willing to repatriate corrupt officials. Even if China could establish an extradition treaty, it would still be problematic. Of course, when some Chinese citizens are being railroaded on charges of “prostitution” or “economic issues,” it’s hard to blame the West for not cooperating in China’s anti-corruption campaign. For the West, which worships the rule of law, the greatest form of corruption is abusing one’s power and infringing on civil rights.

So – China can’t easily extradite corrupt officials, but the government still wants to speed up the fight against corrupt officials who have fled overseas. There’s only one solution: political will and political determination.

Right now, the “Central Anti-Corruption Coordination Small Group” is actually very large: it includes the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the Supreme People’s Court, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Public Security, the Ministry of State Security, the Ministry of Justice, and the People’s Bank of China. But what can even this powerful lineup do without an extradition treaty? Go abroad to kidnap people? Or have the Foreign Ministry spokesperson issue a stern statement saying that these corrupt officials have belonged to China “since ancient times”?

What China needs is political will and determination from the CCP Central Committee. Remember in 2008, around the time of the Beijing Olympics, when Western media outlets were “smearing” China? China put its political machinery into action; all the departments coordinated their responses. China combined gentle and more forceful measures, and even prevented some foreign reporters and officials who had “smeared” China from entering the country. Before long, those foreign media outlets raised their hands in surrender and the government of different countries quieted down. So what hasn’t China taken the same approach toward those countries who harbor China’s corrupt officials?

Here’s another example: Norway interfered in China’s domestic affairs by giving the Nobel Peace Prize to a Chinese citizen. Beijing was angry and started a boycott. One of Norway’s major exports is salmon; due to the boycott, unsold salmon was piling up. Eventually Norway got scared and tried to make up with China.

But when it comes to fighting corruption and upholding clean governance, China doesn’t make use of its national power or put effective pressure on foreign governments. Chasing down corrupt officials who have fled overseas is important for both the people’s livelihood and for the country’s future – so why is the government less willing to put pressure on the West? Because there is not enough political will and political determination. If Beijing really wanted to demand extradition of corrupt officials, using these measures would be easy and natural.

According to my own limited knowledge, Chinese government departments have provided lists of over 2,000 corrupt officials and criminals living abroad to the U.S., Canada, Australia, and some European countries, requesting the extradition of those criminals. But each of those Western countries acted as though they never received the lists. Even more irritating, these foreign governments berate China for not following the law and arresting people at will, which violates human rights – and then they also complain about how severe the corruption is in China.

China should put as much effort into fighting this problem as it did in mobilizing overseas Chinese to denounce “Occupy Central” in Hong Kong. Mobilize those “patriotic” overseas Chinese communities to courageously report overseas Chinese corrupt officials. At the same time, China should put pressure on other countries to make them repatriate corrupt Chinese officials. We can only completely eliminate corruption by cutting off this escape route for corrupt officials.

If by chance that doesn’t work, I volunteer to take up my old job of tracking down overseas corrupt officials. I promise I won’t need a salary, and I won’t blackmail corrupt officials. If I can pick up even one-billionth of the money already transferred overseas by corrupt officials, I would be wealthy indeed.

A version of this piece also appeared in Chinese on Yang Hengjun’s blog. The original post can be found here.

Yang Hengjun is a Chinese independent scholar, novelist, and blogger. He once worked in the Chinese Foreign Ministry and as a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington, DC. Yang received his Ph.D. from the University of Technology, Sydney in Australia. His Chinese language blog is featured on major Chinese current affairs and international relations portals and his pieces receive millions of hits. Yang’s blog can be accessed at