China has lashed out at Washington for impeding its efforts to crack down on Chinese criminals living abroad, rejecting allegations that five people recently arrested in the US were its law enforcement officers on an operation.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin claimed on Friday that the five individuals arrested in New Jersey, New York and California earlier this week for conspiring to coerce a Chinese family to return to China to face charges were not law enforcement officers. Wang, speaking at a daily press briefing, labelled the allegations as “slander.”

China has been cracking down on corruption in an attempt to recover stolen money and arrest those involved, Wang said, adding that the US should stop its “baseless accusation and smears about Chinese efforts to pursue escaped criminals and recover stolen monies.”

The spokesman called on Washington to cooperate with Beijing on transnational organized crime and not to impede China’s pursuit of Chinese criminals living abroad.

We urge the US … to shoulder its international obligations and promise, stop coveting the ill-gotten gains of criminals, and don’t be a safe haven for criminals and their illegal assets.

On Wednesday, the US Justice Department announced that eight Chinese operatives had been charged with undertaking an illegal law enforcement operation within the States. It was reported that the operation aimed to pressurize dissidents to return to China to face charges.

Only five alleged operatives were arrested and the remaining three are suspected to be in China. The Chinese initiative for tracking down Chinese criminals living abroad is known as ‘Operation Fox Hunt’. It was launched in 2014 and has led to the arrest of many of China’s most wanted fugitives. 

The war of words between China and the US has intensified in recent months, with both diplomatic and trade relations negatively affected as a result.

The two countries stepped up their bold rhetoric this week as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a five-leg visit across East Asia, drumming up support against Beijing’s growing influence in the region.

Pompeo has been vocal in his criticism of China whilst on his Asian tour. He labeled Beijing a “predator” on Wednesday, a reference to China’s use of ‘Debt Diplomacy’. In turn, Beijing urged Pompeo to abandon his “Cold War mentality” and “zero-sum mindset.”

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