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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The FBI charged eight people on Wednesday for acting as Chinese agents and said the defendants — five of whom were arrested — stalked and harassed U.S. citizens in an attempt to get them to return to China.

Why it matters: These are the first charges of their kind, FBI director Christopher Wray said at a Wednesday press briefing. The charges include conspiring to violate law on interstate stalking on behalf of the People's Republic of China (PRC).

Driving the news: The FBI arrested five defendants on Wednesday morning — one individual in New Jersey, two in New York, and two others in California, acting U.S. Attorney Seth DuCharme told reporters at a press briefing. He said in a press release that "those charged in China" should "stay out" of the U.S.

Catch up quick: Defendants Zhu Feng, Hu Ji, Li Minjun, Hongru Jin, Zhu Yong, and Michael McMahon, working with PRC officials, allegedly tried to coerce an unnamed New Jersey resident to return to China beginning in April 2017, the DOJ said.

  • Three defendants — Zhu Feng, Hu Ji, and Li Minjun — remain at large, the agency said.
  • Zheng Congying and an unidentified co-conspirator allegedly left a note on the New Jersey resident's door in September 2018 that read: “If you are willing to go back to mainland and spend 10 years in prison, your wife and children will be all right. That’s the end of this matter!” 
  • Unsolicited packages that threatened the resident's family were sent to his home from February to April last year, the agency said.

The big picture: Officials at the press briefing said the New Jersey resident being targeted was "far from an isolated incident," when a reporter asked for an exact number on how many people had been targeted.

  • Some of the alleged victims were "dissidents, critics, rivals of the Chinese General Secretary," John Demers, assistant attorney general for national security, said, while others had been "legitimately sought for criminal activity, although in an illegitimate way," by China.

What they're saying: "Our concern isn't with the Chinese people or with Chinese Americans. Our concern is with criminal acts committed at the behest of the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party," Wray stressed.

Go deeper

Jan 26, 2021 - World

DOJ considering amnesty for foreign funding disclosure

Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

The Department of Justice is considering an amnesty program that would allow researchers to disclose previous foreign funding without penalty, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Why it matters: The department is facing mounting criticism that its prosecutions of academics who failed to disclose China ties is too harsh.

Dave Lawler, author of World
2 hours ago - World

Americans increasingly see China as an enemy

One in three Americans, and a majority of Republicans, now view China as an enemy of the United States, according to a new survey from Pew Research Center.

By the numbers: Just 9% of Americans consider China a "partner," while 55% see Beijing as a "competitor" and 34% as an "enemy."

Scoop: Leaked HHS docs spotlight Biden's child migrant dilemma

A group of undocumented immigrants walk toward a Customs and Border Patrol station after being apprehended. Photo: Sergio Flores/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Fresh internal documents from the Department of Health and Human Services show how quickly the number of child migrants crossing the border is overwhelming the administration's stretched resources.

Driving the news: In the week ending March 1, the Border Patrol referred to HHS custody an average of 321 children per day, according to documents obtained by Axios. That's up from a weekly average of 203 in late January and early February — and just 47 per day during the first week of January.