THE CHINESE government has sent covert law enforcement agents to the United States to intimidate expatriates into returning to China, the New York Times recently reported. The effort — called Operation Fox Hunt — is part of an anti-corruption crusade targeting those who have supposedly committed crimes in China. But China’s reach is not limited to corruption cases. The Communist government also works to project its repressive policies and abuse of human rights beyond its borders, with repeated threats to cancel passports, withhold visas and even jail family members of former and current Chinese citizens who criticize the country from foreign ground.
The Chinese government exerts its influence overseas in many ways. Academics must tread lightly when speaking or writing about the country if they want visas for research. News organizations may lose access or advertising revenue if their reports displease authorities. In Britain last month, employees of the Chinese Embassy tried to persuade a hot air balloon festival to ban a balloon bearing the Tibetan flag.
More insidious, however, are the government’s efforts to control Chinese people outside of China. For example, Uighur journalist and U.S. citizen Shohret Hoshur has shed light in his reporting for Radio Free Asia on the conflict between ethnic Han Chinese and Uighurs in his home province of Xinjiang. Mr. Hoshur’s family has received threats for years. Now, one of his brothers is in prison, and two others have been jailed and are awaiting trial on charges of leaking state secrets.
There’s also Anastasia Lin, a Chinese-born Canadian actor who was crowned Miss World Canada in May. Ms. Lin, who wrote of her situation in a Post op-ed, was a vocal human rights advocate in the pageant. After her victory, Ms. Lin’s father in Hunan province told her she had to stop speaking ill of the Chinese government or stop speaking to him — the police had threatened him. Ms. Lin has not backed down; so far she has not secured a visa to compete in the Miss World championships in Sanya, China. We’d like to think other contestants would stay away, too, if all aren’t admitted, but we’re not holding our breath.
Mr. Hoshur and Ms. Lin are not alone: Many more advocates, journalists and dissidents in the United States and elsewhere take a risk or put their relatives in danger every time they speak out against Chinese policies. Their host nations should condemn not just secret operations such as Fox Hunt but also all Chinese efforts to squelch free speech abroad as they seek to do domestically. When repression in authoritarian regimes finds its way to freer societies, it is up to the free countries to do something about it.