Explainer: China’s covert overseas ‘police stations’ | China

The FBI this week arrested two men accused of running a covert overseas police operation in New York on behalf of Chinese authorities. The charges followed a raid on a Fujianese community centre in Chinatown in October 2022. Lu Jianwang and Chen Jinping, both US citizens, are accused of using the premises to run an “unofficial police station”.

Police in the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and Canada have opened investigations into similar allegations in their countries. On Wednesday, Chris Philp, a UK home office minister, said the outposts were “of great concern”.

How many are there?

According to the human rights group Safeguard Defenders, which first drew attention to the issue in 2022, there are 102 overseas police stations in 53 countries, including Italy, France, Canada, Britain and the Netherlands. Reports published in the Chinese media suggest they are on most continents.

When did they start to appear?

First in 2016, when the public security bureaus of Nantong and Wenzhou began to launch pilots overseas. They were followed by similar initiatives from the Qingtian authorities in 2018, and more recently, operations run by the Fuzhou public security bureau, which Lu and Chen are accused of working for.

Nantong, Wenzhou, Qingtian and Fuzhou are all cities on or near China’s south-east coast, a region from where huge numbers of Chinese migrants have historically travelled overseas. Most of Europe’s 1.7 million Chinese immigrants come from Wenzhou or Qingtian.

What is their relationship to the Chinese Communist party?

The indictment against Lu and Chen alleges they acted as “agents of the PRC government”. However, this seems to relate primarily to allegations that since 2015 they have helped organise protests in Washington against Chinese dissidents.

The overseas police stations, which appeared more recently, are the brainchild of China’s regional public security bureaus, rather than the central government or party. Jeremy Daum, a senior fellow at the Paul Tsai China Center at Yale University, notes that in China, “local governments are given space to experiment radically in implementing mandates from above”.

On Tuesday, Wang Wenbin, a foreign ministry spokesperson, said there was “no such thing as an overseas police station”.

What do they actually do?

The outposts do not appear to be staffed by actual police officers. Their ostensible purpose is to help Chinese citizens overseas with administrative issues, such as renewing driving licences.

However, there are also reports of the stations being involved in “persuade to return” operations. This refers to attempts by the Chinese authorities, either directly or via proxies, to get criminal suspects – or dissidents – to return to China. Relatives in China of wanted people are sometimes pressured in these campaigns.

In 2022 a minister from China’s ministry of public security said 210,000 people had been persuaded to return in 2021, primarily relating to cases of suspected telecoms fraud.

But Laura Harth, the campaigns director at Safeguard Defenders, says the stations are “only the tip of the iceberg in much wider transnational repression campaigns”.

The Chinese Communist party has a range of tools at its fingertips for harassing dissidents overseas. On Monday, the US justice department announced charges against 40 officers from China’s ministry of public security, and four other officials, for allegedly running an internet troll operation against dissidents.

In other cases people wanted by the Chinese government have simply disappeared from overseas locations, only to turn up in Chinese custody. Such operations often require the cooperation of third countries.

Harth concludes: “Police stations or no police stations, this is happening everywhere.”

( Information from politico.com was used in this report. Also if you have any problem of this article or if you need to remove this articles, please email here and we will delete this immediately. [email protected] )

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