This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
China has yet to shut down its much-criticized overseas police stations in Germany, despite Berlin’s insistence they are a violation of German sovereignty, according to a German newspaper and publicly available parliamentary records.
Parliamentary State Secretary Rita Schwarzeluehr-Sutter said in a written reply to a question from lawmaker Joana Cotar that China currently has two “overseas police stations” on German soil, neither of which is covered by existing bilateral agreements on diplomatic institutions.
Rather, they are “informal outposts of local Chinese police units from typical emigrant regions of China, such as the coastal provinces Fujian, Jiangsu and Zhejiang,” Schwarzeluehr-Sutter said in a written reply to a lawmaker’s question carried in publicly available federal government archives highlighted in a March 15 report by the Handelsblatt newspaper.
“[They] are not managed by Chinese police officers, but by Chinese-born so-called ‘community leaders’ who have German citizenship,” the March 2 written reply said.
“These are people who have good contacts with the diplomatic missions of the People’s Republic of China and who enjoy the trust of the Chinese security authorities. They are also involved in Chinese United Front organizations,” Schwarzeluehr-Sutter wrote in a reference to the Chinese Communist Party’s outreach and influence arm.
China has denied that it runs overseas police operations, claiming that the “service stations” are purely for the administrative convenience of its nationals overseas.
But it has shut down a number of them after a September 2022 report from the Spain-based Safeguard Defenders group listed dozens of such operations, sparking investigations and orders to shut down from governments around the world.
Spying on the Chinese diaspora
The Interior Ministry said the police stations do offer administrative services, but also engage in espionage among members of the Chinese diaspora, including influential figures, as well as the “propagation of ideological and political guidelines, with responsible community leaders acting as ‘propagandists’.”
Foreign Ministry official Andreas Michaelis said in a written reply to a parliamentary question in December that the federal government had “made it clear to the Embassy that it would not tolerate violations of its sovereignty, and remains in contact with the Chinese side,” the Handelsblatt reported.
German Green Member of the European Parliament Reinhard Bütikofer called via his Twitter account for a pause on the next bilateral summit between Germany and China.
“The German government can no longer tolerate the Chinese violation of German sovereignty by operating illegal ‘police stations’,” Bütikofer tweeted. “As long as such institutions exist, the preparation of the next GER-CN Summit will have to wait.”
The federal Foreign Ministry requested that China shut down the offices in a note verbale on Nov. 3, 2022, the Handelsblatt reported.
It said the Chinese Embassy had replied saying that there were “no relevant activities” going on at the service stations.
According to the article, which cited China expert Mareike Ohlberg, the persecution and intimidation of Chinese people in Germany has also taken place “by phone or text directly from China.”
Harassed and intimidated
Politicians from both major parties told the paper that there should be zero tolerance for the service stations, and called on the foreign ministry to escalate the matter diplomatically, it said.
Aniessa Andresen, chairman of the advocacy group Hongkonger in Deutschland, said some of the group’s members had received threatening messages from people believed to be working for the Chinese state security services.
She said group members had also been photographed at protests across Germany, threatened with being “reported,” as well as being stalked, harassed and intimidated.
Andresen said the Chinese government is blatantly violating international law, and the German government’s lackluster response had encouraged the persecution of Chinese dissidents living in what should be a free country.
She said the unofficial police activity was a threat to national security, and called for the immediate shutdown of all overseas police stations or service stations on German soil.
Ray Wong of the German campaign group Freiheit für Hongkong agreed.
“What this shows us is that China thinks Germany is weak, and won’t dare to do anything even if they don’t shut down the two police stations, for fear of countermeasures from China,” Wong said.
“Germany should stand firm on this, and be prepared to take necessary measures to force China to respect its sovereignty, and to protect the personal freedom of Hong Kongers, and of all anti-communists [in Germany],” he said.
Confident about opening up
The furor over Chinese police stations in Germany came as Chinese leader Xi Jinping called for better ties with political parties overseas, as a complement to diplomacy with foreign states.
Conducting dialogues with other countries’ political parties and organizations shows that the Chinese Communist Party is confident about opening up, communication and exchanges with the rest of the world, Xi was quoted as saying by the Global Times newspaper.
It also demonstrates the party’s sincere desire to have all political groups around the world gain a better understanding of the Chinese Communist Party’s ideology, and its determination to promote world peace and development, the paper paraphrased him as saying.
“As the ruling party of China, the [CCP] is ready to take responsibility and play a greater role in the international arena,” the paper quoted international relations expert Li Haidong as saying.
But academic Li Xinjiang said there was scant room for acceptance of the way Western democracies work in China’s plan, which is more about exporting Beijing’s model of totalitarian rule around the world.
“There is a global trend right now in which we are seeing barbaric, totalitarian regimes on the rise, not on the decline,” Li told Radio Free Asia.
“This is because China acts as a model and a kind of big brother, who takes the lead.”
He said the emergence of more authoritarian governments in southeast Asia had Chinese influence behind it.