Tea Leaf Nation

Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Chinese Fugitives

Forty percent of China's 100 most-wanted allegedly reside Stateside. Is Beijing trying to nudge Washington to step up cooperation?

US-WEATHER-STORM-TOURISM
A view of the Statue of Liberty, as Liberty Island opens to the public on July 4, 2013 for the first time since Superstorm Sandy slammed into the New York area. The Statue of Liberty, one of America's most recognizable symbols, reopens just in time for the July 4 national holiday, after being repaired from damage inflicted last year by Hurricane Sandy. AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

Meet China’s 100 international most-wanted: a history professor, a driving instructor, and a government propaganda office cashier. Chinese graft-busters want you to know that one of them might be your neighbor.

On April 22, China’s dreaded Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) published the names and faces of 100 globe-trotting fugitives suspected of corruption, bribe taking, embezzling public funds, money laundering, and other crimes. They mainly hail from cities or provinces along China’s wealthy eastern seaboard, including Shanghai and Beijing. The dirtiest province is Guangdong in the country’s south. One fugitive, a bank manager from Jiangyin city in Jiangsu province (close to Shanghai), skipped out of the country in 2011 with some $16 million in stolen funds. Eden Wu, a former Shanghai-based Standard Chartered banker who helped the man set up an overseas account right before he fled, told Foreign Policy that the then 33-year-old father of two seemed a little young for private banking services but he claimed to have wealthy parents so she didn’t think twice about it. Wu also said via telephone from Houston Texas, where she lives now, that the banker, Sun Feng, was “a little impatient” and “quite bossy.” The most-wanted list says Sun could be hiding out in Canada, Thailand or the Philippines.

Twenty-three women also made the cut, including Yang Xiuzhu, a former construction bureau official from eastern China’s Zhejiang province who allegedly took some $40 billion in bribes before fleeing to Singapore and then the United States under a pseudonym in April 2003. Chinese state media reported in August 2010 that Yang owned a five-story building worth $5 million close to Times Square in New York City and that she was spotted in San Francisco not long after she went on the lam. The list included photos of each suspect and, significantly, the country or countries where each is believed to be hiding.

Indeed, the primary purpose of the release appears mainly to be naming, and ultimately winning cooperation from, those countries where the fugitives might reside — particularly the United States. Up to 40 are suspected to be Stateside, and up to 26 are allegedly in Canada. Below is a map showing the suspected locations of each listed Chinese fugitive:

By highlighting the landing spots of each suspect, China could be laying the groundwork for more intensive negotiations with U.S. and Canadian counterparties over possible extradition. The head of the CCDI, Wang Qishan, is expected to visit the United States in late 2015, and the list could be an attempt to turn up the pressure on U.S. authorities. Minxin Pei, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna in California, told Foreign Policy that China’s progress on that front has thus far been “modest” because Western countries “have elaborate due process and because the Chinese authorities usually provide insufficient evidence to build a strong case.”

The new rogue’s gallery, clearly curated, does little to help; it comprises mostly relatively low-level officials and executives at state-run banks and other state-owned enterprises. Pei said the list leaves out some higher-ranking corrupt officials and is really “the tip of the iceberg,” adding that if these 100 people were the worst China’s graft-busters had to deal with, the Chinese leadership would be lucky. In other words, those named are mostly “flies,” slang for low-level cadres, and doesn’t include a single “tiger,” or high-ranking official. Pei said that’s because senior officials may know a lot of secrets. “Publicizing their names could lead Western intelligence agencies to these officials,” Pei said, and as a result, “the costs may not be worth the benefits.”

The list is part of a new campaign authorities dubbed “Skynet” that was announced in March 2015 intended to focus primarily on tracking down corrupt Chinese who have fled overseas.* The official Xinhua News Agency announced the campaign March 26, citing CCDI officials. (For The Washington Post and many other overseas media outlets, it was hard to overlook the fact that the evil Internet-gone-wrong in the popular Terminator movie franchise was also called “Skynet.”) China’s Skynet campaign follows a theme similar to last year’s campaign, dubbed “Fox Hunt 2014,” which was more narrowly focused on overseas fugitives and promised leniency for those who turned themselves in before Dec. 1, 2014. The Chinese state-run English-language China Daily reported on Dec. 5 that the campaign had netted 428 suspects from 60 countries in its first six months. That included 231 suspects who had turned themselves in.

By contrast, the new campaign doesn’t truck with leniency. In the announcement that accompanied the release of the list, the CCDI said it would step up cooperation with the relevant countries and use all available resources to target corrupt individuals. It said the wrongdoers were “rats crossing the road” that ought to be seized and brought back home to justice.

Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian and Shujie Leng contributed research.

*Correction, April 27, 2015: Skynet was announced in March 2015. An earlier version of this article misstated the date of the announcement as March 2014. (Return to reading.)

Top image via Getty Images. Map lists France as including French Guiana.

Alexa Olesen was a foreign correspondent for the Associate Press in Beijing for eight years and has been a reporter for Foreign Policy. She now works for ChinaSix, a New York-based consulting firm.

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