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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

Biden plans to keep Christopher Wray as FBI director

FBI Director Christopher Wray at a virtual DOJ news briefing on Oct. 28. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/pool/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden plans to keep Christopher Wray as director of the FBI and has "confidence in the job he is doing," White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed in a tweet Thursday.

The big picture: Wray, who was nominated by former President Trump in 2017 after he fired former FBI Director James Comey, came under heavy criticism from Trump and his allies over the past year.

Moderna says vaccine appears to protect against new COVID-19 variants

Photo: Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images

Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine is effective against new variants of the virus that first appeared in the U.K. and in South Africa, the company announced on Monday.

Yes, but: The vaccine was as effective against the strain from U.K., but saw a six-fold reduction in antibodies against the South Africa variant. Even still, the neutralizing antibodies generated by the vaccine "remain above levels that are expected to be protective," according to the company.

Dave Lawler, author of World
Updated 1 hour ago - World

Xi Jinping warns against "new cold war" in Davos speech

Chinese President Xi Jinping. Photo: Wang Zhao - Pool/Getty Images

Chinese President Xi Jinping warned that a "new cold war" could turn hot, and must be avoided, in a speech on Monday at World Economic Forum’s virtual “Davos Agenda” conference.

Why it matters: Xi didn't refer directly to U.S.-China tensions, but the subtext was clear. These were his first remarks to an international audience since the inauguration of President Biden, whose administration has already concurred with Donald Trump's determination that China is committing "genocide" against Uyghur Muslims, and issued a warning about China's aggression toward Taiwan.