Obama and Xi in Beijing
Chinese government agents reportedly are operating secretly in the U.S. to pressure influential expatriates, some wanted in China on charges of corruption, to return home. Pictured: U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping listen to national anthems behind a U.S. flag during a welcoming ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014. Reuters/Petar Kujundzic

Chinese government agents are operating secretly in the U.S. to pressure influential expatriates, some wanted in China on charges of corruption, to return home, the New York Times reported Sunday, citing anonymous American officials. The Chinese agents are part of Beijing’s global campaign, known as Operation Fox Hunt, to track down and repatriate Chinese fugitives living abroad.

The Times said U.S. President Barack Obama delivered a warning to Beijing in recent weeks and demanded China halt its activities. The news comes at a time when the two governments are at odds, more than at any other time in recent years. American officials are increasingly frustrated by Chinese policy, such as China’s crackdown on civil liberties and the devaluation of its currency. Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, is expected to visit the White House next month.

Chinese agents are undercover operatives with the Ministry of Public Security, China’s law enforcement branch charged with carrying out Operation Fox Hunt, the American officials told the Times. The agents use various tactics to get fugitives to return home, the report said, including threatening the fugitives' family members.

The international operation is part of a larger anticorruption drive underway in China, launched after Xi took office in late 2013.

Earlier this year, China’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection posted online a list of the country’s top international economic fugitives believed to have fled to countries including the United States, Canada and Australia. The list was initially released to foreign governments to help apprehend the suspects and recover assets in Operation Fox Hunt.

The fugitives, according to the posting, occupied government jobs in China at various levels and are accused of crimes including corruption, embezzlement, bribery and abuse of power. The list gives the details of each fugitive, including the full names, photos and identification numbers of the suspects, along with the destinations to which they likely fled.

Earlier in 2014, China arrested 288 suspects accused of financial crimes across 56 countries as part of the operation, Reuters reported. The Ministry of Public Security said 126 of those suspects were brought back to China and confessed to their crimes. Some of them were apprehended in the U.S., Canada and Australia.

“The economic fugitives seem like the crafty foxes who have fled overseas to avoid punishment, but we, the wise hunters, will nail them. No matter where they are, or who they are, we will catch them,” said Liu Dong, deputy director of the economic crimes unit at the Ministry of Public Security, after a successful sweep last September.