This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
The British police are investigating a number of alleged Chinese police stations in the country as it emerged that a businessman with ties to the Communist Party’s United Front operations was photographed rubbing shoulders with then-Prime Minister Theresa May.
Faced with a barrage of questions in parliament, government ministers declined to comment in detail on a report in The Times newspaper about the alleged police stations, which Beijing says are offices to help overseas Chinese with various administrative affairs, but which human rights groups say are used to spy on dissidents and try to bring them back to China.
The Times report included a photo of May and businessman Lin Ruiyou, who has known ties with United Front officials that work to promote loyalty to Xi and spread his personal brand of political ideology, and overseas organizations loyal to the Chinese Communist Party.
“The latest reporting in The Times on the so-called overseas police stations is of course of great concern,” Home Office spokesman Lord Sharpe of Epsom told the House of Lords on Thursday, calling the matter “sensitive.”
“Investigations by the law enforcement community are ongoing,” he said, confirming that the authorities are probing more than one of the alleged police stations.
“It is difficult for me to comment on ongoing matters, but … yes, it is fair to say that there is more than just one,” he added, but said the government is keen to eradicate transnational oppression by authoritarian governments on British soil.
The report comes out after the recent arrests of two men in New York for allegedly setting up an overseas branch of the Chinese government’s Ministry of Public Security in Manhattan that was eventually shut down by the authorities last year.
Beijing has shut down a number of the offices in the wake of a September 2022 report from the Spain-based Safeguard Defenders group listing dozens of such operations, sparking investigations and orders to shut down from governments around the world.
“Through our police forces and the intelligence agencies that work with them, we take a proactive approach to protecting individuals and communities from threats,” Sharpe said. “Where we identify individuals who may be at heightened risk, we are front-footed in deploying security measures and guidance where necessary.”
Asked about the photo of Lin, a British citizen and key figure in a ruling Conservative Party Chinese constituency group, with Theresa May, Sharpe replied: “It is very difficult for any prominent politician of any party, within or outside government, to know precisely who is appearing in a selfie with them.”
Lin, whose Croydon-based food delivery service All Eat was identified as sharing an address with an illegal Chinese police service station by Safeguard Defenders, has made multiple trips back to his home province of Fujian in recent years.
He presides over the U.K.-based Changle Overseas Chinese Association, for people who hail from the Changle district of Fujian’s provincial capital Fuzhou.
He is mentioned in a Feb. 21, 2021, report on the official website of the Fuzhou Returned Overseas Chinese Association as taking part in an event organized by the United Front Work Department of the Changle district Communist Party Committee, which brought overseas Chinese on school visits to make charitable donations towards students’ education.
Lin also appears in a Jan. 9, 2020, report on China’s Sohu.com internet platform, taking part in a charity event to donate to people in need, accompanied by Zheng Jun, a member of the local United Front Work Committee.
A keyword search for his name in Chinese on Thursday resulted in a number of similar news stories on Chinese official websites or media platforms dating back to 2019.
Chris Philp, Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire had earlier faced questioning from members of parliament in the House of Commons on Wednesday.
Yvette Cooper of the opposition Labour Party said Lin’s role as a Conservative Party fundraiser “raise[d] vital national security concerns,” and that the government had failed to deliver an update on the Chinese police stations, as they had promised months ago.
“We have heard nothing—no reports of arrests and no reassurance that these operations have been closed down,” Cooper said.
“Instead, we are told that one key individual has been vice-chairman of the Chinese group fundraising for the Conservative Association in the City of London, and has attended party-organized events with two out of the last three Conservative prime ministers,” she said.
Philp said Chinese infiltration via police stations wasn’t confined to the United Kingdom, however. “We are aware of approximately 100 alleged stations of the kind we are discussing around the world,” he said, mentioning the recent arrests in New York.
Hong Kong activists based in the U.K. have repeatedly warned that community groups in the country may have been infiltrated by people loyal to Beijing, posing potential threats to incoming migrants from Hong Kong under the British National Overseas visa scheme.
The British government says 160,700 people have emigrated to the United Kingdom on the scheme, which includes a pathway to permanent residency and citizenship, since its launch in 2021, which prompted retaliation from Beijing.