CHINA WATCHChina’s Long-Arm Policing Overseas

Published 19 January 2022

Just around Christmas last year, China’s global hunt for “fugitives” hit a new milestone. Since its launch in 2014 as part of Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign, 10,000 are claimed to have been successfully returned from over 120 countries around the globe under Sky Net (and junior partner Fox Hunt) operations.

This new report by Safeguard Defenders goes beyond the few individual cases reported on occasionally in the past, delving deep into their foreign operations and blowing the lid on the use of so-called “voluntary” returns… by any means necessary.

“Any means” is to be taken literally. Legally sanctioned methods under the PRC’s National Supervision Law range from detaining family members back in China, to sending police overseas on secret missions to intimidate targets into returning, to outright kidnappings abroad.

As the research shows, formal legal procedures such as extraditions play an almost non-existent role in the claimed success rate of the Sky Net campaign. Instead, these involuntary returns (IR) account for the vast majority of Sky Net’s track record: in 2018, IR stood for some 64% of the claimed successful returns, while extradition – the appropriate judicial channel for such returns – represented but 1%.

The rapidly expanding global practice poses a severe threat to national sovereignty and individual rights everywhere. National awareness and investigations, as well as targeted actions to counter these operations and protect those most at risk are key to upholding the international rules-based order.

China Legalizes Use of Kidnapping Abroad
Safeguard Defenders’ latest report exposes an existing legal interpretation from the party-twin to the body in command of Sky Net: China’s new feared super-ministry, the National Supervision Commission (NSC). On the basis of article 52 of the National Supervision Law (2018), it provides the practical terms for how the NSC and Police shall achieve the return of claimed fugitives. This legal interpretation serves as a guide on the numerous categories of methods that can be employed. In its fifth and final category, it states outright:

[For the fifth category] There are two common ways: (1) kidnapping, which means using the methods of kidnapping to arrest fugitives back to the country; (2) trapping and capturing, which means luring criminal suspects to the territories of the destination country, the high seas, international airspace, or a third country which has an extradition treaty with the destination country, and then to arrest or extradite them.

The Three Types of Involuntary Returns (IR)
The research behind the report includes a deep dive into 62 cases of both failed and successful attempts at these “voluntary” returns. Based on these, Safeguard Defenders mapped three types of IR (involuntary returns) methods employed. Broadly speaking, they are: