(TibetanReview.net, Dec05’22) – The number of so-called overseas police stations set up by China across the globe to monitor, harass and in some cases repatriate Chinese citizens living in exile now exceed 100. And China is using bilateral security arrangements struck with countries in Europe and Africa to gain a widespread presence of its police force internationally, reported the edition.cnn.com Dec 4, citing a new report.
The report cited Madrid-based human rights campaigner Safeguard Defenders as saying it had found evidence that China was operating 48 additional police stations abroad since it first revealed the existence of 54 such stations in September, with many more being planned to be set up.
The report, titled as “Patrol and Persuade”, is stated to have examined the role that joint policing initiatives between China and several European nations, including Italy, Croatia, Serbia and Romania have played in piloting a wider expansion of Chinese overseas stations than was known until the organization’s revelations came out.
The group’s new allegations included its finding that a Chinese citizen was coerced into returning home by operatives working undercover in a Chinese overseas police station in a Paris suburb, expressly recruited for that purpose. This was in addition to an earlier disclosure that two other Chinese exiles had been forcibly returned from Europe – one in Serbia, the other in Spain.
The group has said its findings are based on open-source, official Chinese documents.
The group has said it has identified four different police jurisdictions of China’s Ministry of Public Security active across at least 53 countries, spanning all four corners of the globe, ostensibly to help expatriates from those parts of China with their needs abroad.
China has claimed that the facilities are administrative hubs, set up to help Chinese expatriates with tasks like renewing their driver’s licenses. It has also claimed the offices were a response to the Covid-19 pandemic, which had left many citizens locked down in other countries and locked out of China, unable to renew documentation.
China’s foreign affairs ministry had earlier claimed that the so-called overseas stations were staffed by volunteers. However, the organization’s latest report has found that one police network it examined had hired 135 people for its first 21 stations. It has also sourced a three-year contract for a worker hired at an overseas station in Stockholm.
Undeclared consular activities outside of a nation’s official diplomatic missions are highly unusual and illegal, unless a host nation has given their explicit consent, the report notes. And Safeguard Defenders’ report has found that China’s overseas offices predate the pandemic by several years.
Safeguard Defenders’ reports have prompted investigations in at least 13 countries so far and enflamed an increasingly heated diplomatic tussle between China and nations like Canada, home to a large Chinese diaspora, said the edition.cnn.com report.
The NGO has determined that Italy has hosted 11 Chinese police stations, including in Venice and in Prato, near Florence. The country had signed a series of bilateral security deals with China over successive governments since 2015 and has kept largely silent during the revelations of alleged Chinese police activities on its soil.
Other countries having similar agreement with China were stated to include Croatia and Serbia, as well as South Africa and nearby nations.
Safeguard Defenders stumbled on the police networks while trying to assess the scale of China’s efforts to persuade some of its people to return to China even against their will, which, based on official Chinese data, could number almost a quarter of a million people around the world during the time Xi has been in power, the report noted.
“What we see coming from China is increasing attempts to crack down on dissent everywhere in the world, to threaten people, harass people, make sure that they are fearful enough so that they remain silent or else face being returned to China against their will,” Safeguard Defenders Campaign director Laura Harth has said.
As regards the stations’ modus operandi, Harth has said: “It will start with phone calls. They might start to intimidate your relatives back in China, to threaten you, do everything really to coax the targets abroad to come back. If that doesn’t work, they will use covert agents abroad. They will send them from Beijing and use methods such as luring and entrapment.”
On reports that such illegal Chinese police stations had been set up in the US as well, FBI Director Christopher Wray was reported to have told a Homeland Security Committee last month that he was deeply concerned about the revelations. “It is outrageous to think that the Chinese police would attempt to set up shop, you know, in New York, let’s say, without proper coordination. It violates sovereignty and circumvents standard judicial and law enforcement cooperation processes.”
Following Safeguard defenders’ revelations, Ireland shut down the Chinese police station found on its territory, while the Netherlands, which took similar measures, has a probe underway, as does Spain, the report noted.
“This is a moment when countries have to consider that it’s a question of upholding the rule of law and human rights in their countries as much for people from China, as for everyone else around the world,” Harth has said.