China has set up at least 54 overseas police stations in 30 countries, including in the United States (New York), Canada, Spain, Italy, France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Hungary, Portugal, the Czech Republic, Brazil, Argentina and Nigeria, according to a recent report from Safeguard Defenders, a human rights NGO. Most of these police stations are located in Europe, with nine such police stations in major Spanish cities, four in Italy, and three in Paris, among others.
According to Peter Dahlin, director of Safeguard Defenders, those are just the tip of the iceberg:
The police stations are part of China’s campaign to “persuade” Chinese citizens suspected of criminal acts – particularly telecommunications fraud, but also political “crimes” such as political dissent – to return to China to face criminal prosecution. China not only threatens the Chinese citizens themselves but also members of their families who have stayed behind in China. Such threats have been continuing for years, as FBI Director Christopher Wray pointed out in 2020, when he mentioned a case from the US in which a Chinese government “emissary” visited a target in the US and told him that he could choose between returning to China or committing suicide.
On August 17, China’s Ministry of Public Security stated:
“Official guidelines explicitly outline the different tools made available to ‘persuade’ the targets to voluntarily return to China to face charges,” Safeguard Defenders wrote.
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China’s overseas police stations purport merely to have administrative or consular functions, but function as means of threatening Chinese abroad to return to China, thereby skipping the necessary legal requirements under international law. According to Safeguard Defenders:
The police stations are obviously also used to target Chinese abroad who disagree with the regime.
“One of the aims of these campaigns, obviously, as it is to crack down on dissent, is to silence people,” Laura Harth, a campaign director with Safeguard Defenders said. “So people are afraid. People that are being targeted, that have family members back in China, are afraid to speak out.”
Crucially, the police stations operate without the consent and knowledge of the host countries, such as in the Netherlands, where one of the police stations operates out of a plain ground-floor apartment in Rotterdam belonging to a small Chinese handyman business. Several countries, such as Canada, the Netherlands, the UK, Portugal and Spain, are now investigating the matter and some have already demanded the closure of the Chinese overseas police stations on their soil.
“[We] have asked the Chinese ambassador for full clarification on the so-called police service stations carrying out tasks in the Netherlands on behalf of the Chinese government,” Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra wrote on Twitter.
In the US, FBI director Christopher Wray said that the FBI was investigating the matter.
Wray added that the FBI was “looking into the legal parameters,” and stated that the FBI has opened charges related to Chinese government harassment, stalking, monitoring and blackmailing Chinese in the US who were critical of China’s President Xi Jinping.
Beijing, not surprisingly, has denied all wrongdoing. “The organizations you mentioned are not police stations or police service centers,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian Zhao insisted.
Nevertheless, the Spanish newspaper El Correo quoted an unnamed official from the Chinese Foreign Ministry in Shanghai, who reportedly acknowledged that the police stations abroad are part of how China operates:
Safeguard Defenders has appealed to countries to take swift action against the Chinese police stations.
Judith Bergman, a columnist, lawyer and political analyst, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute. This article was originally published on the Gatestone Institute.