This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
More governments in Europe and the Americas have launched their own investigations into alleged Chinese secret police stations identified by a human rights group, with Germany and Chile looking into the reports and France “monitoring.”
The Madrid-based non-governmental organization, Safeguard Defenders, reported in September that China is carrying out “illegal, transnational policing operations” across five continents via 54 so-called police service stations in 30 countries.
Beijing said the stations were set up to provide essential services to Chinese citizens overseas. Safeguard Defenders says they are actually used to coerce emigrants into returning home to face criminal charges and to silence dissent abroad.
So far the Dutch and Irish governments have ordered China to shut down its overseas police service stations in their countries.
Some other European governments including the Czech Republic, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom, are probing the allegations made by Safeguard Defenders.
“The German government does not tolerate the exercise of foreign state power, and accordingly, Chinese agencies do not have any executive authority on the territory of the Federal Republic of Germany,” the German Interior Ministry said.
German authorities are currently also having to deal with another case of foreign extraterritoriality, after Hanoi’s secret agents were accused of abducting a Vietnamese fugitive in Berlin “in broad daylight” and forcing him to return to Hanoi to face criminal charges.
Vietnam and China are among a handful of countries ruled by Communist Parties and their public security apparatuses operate similarly, although on a different scale.
The French Interior Ministry told Le Monde newspaper that its General Directorate for Internal Security “deploys substantial (and increasing) resources on monitoring activities of foreign services or state entities likely to come into conflict with our own sovereignty.”
In Chile, Interior Minister Carolina Tohá said an investigation is being carried out in the city of Viña del Mar, following a cabinet meeting during which the issue was raised.
‘A bigger picture’
In the United States, where an investigation into the reported overseas police service station in New York is ongoing, the government is taking a broader approach and looking at China’s alleged transnational repression and policing efforts in the whole of the country, rather than looking into a single case.
“That’s how we’d like foreign governments to respond to our report,” said Jing-jie Chen, one of the main investigators contributing to the Safeguard Defenders’ report ‘110 Overseas – Chinese Transnational Policing Gone Wild.’
110 is the police emergency number in China and some of the alleged police stations call themselves “110 Overseas Service Stations.”
“We would like the governments to look at a bigger picture, where the Chinese overseas policing should be seen as a method of China’s transnational repression,” Chen told RFA.
“It enables the Chinese state to reach out and silence dissidents, to spread fear and distrust among Chinese communities, and dissidents – despite having fled China – will not be able to continue their activism.”
“Foreign governments should take this issue seriously as this is not only protecting Chinese citizens but also defending democracy,” the researcher said.
Safeguard Defenders urged foreign governments to investigate China’s transnational repression tactics and underlying networks, “including in countries where no police service station appears to have been set up.”
“We call on them to set up adequate reporting and protection mechanisms for communities at risk, and coordinate information-sharing and adequate responses with likeminded countries,” said Chen.
Network of police stations
The 54 police stations identified in the Safeguard Defenders report were set up mostly by two Chinese Public Security Bureaus, from Qingtian County in Zhejiang province and Fuzhou, the capital of Fujian province.
Government documents obtained via open sources however indicated that at least ten provinces in China were given mandates to set up similar operations, and the number of such police stations may be much higher.
“We found indications that other local police departments and public security bureaus [are] starting replicating this kind of overseas service station, like Wenzhou and Wuhai,” said Chen.
The Chinese government insisted that the purpose of the service centers is to help overseas Chinese nationals, who have not been able to return home because of the COVID-19 pandemic, “to have their driving licenses renewed and receive physical examinations.”
This has been rejected by Safeguard Defenders’ researchers, who pointed out that first reports of China’s police stations abroad were recorded in 2018, before any signs of COVID.
Between April 2021 and July 2022, Chinese police “persuaded” 230,000 alleged fugitives to return to China “voluntarily” while admitting not all their targets had committed any crimes, they quoted Chinese state media as saying.
While recognizing swift responses by European governments, the researchers said authorities in many other countries, including Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Cambodia, Greece, Hungary, Japan, and Slovakia, to name a few, have yet to respond.
“In Nigeria, some journalists told us they have tried to cover the story but have been warned against it, even threatened,” Chen told RFA.
“Government agencies kept telling them the report’s findings are nonsense,” he added.