China is said to have established dozens of “overseas police stations” in countries around the world, which activists fear will be used to track and harass dissidents as part of Beijing’s anti-corruption crackdown.
Concerns have been raised about the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s influence over its citizens abroad, sometimes in ways that other countries consider illegal, as well as the undermining of democratic institutions and the theft of economic and political secrets by bodies affiliated with the one-party state.
Last month, the Spanish-based non-governmental organization Safeguard Defenders released a report titled “110 Overseas. Chinese Transnational Policing Gone Wild” that focused on the foreign stations.
According to Laura Harth, the group’s campaign director, China has established at least 54 overseas police service stations.
“Obviously, one of the goals of these campaigns, as it is to crack down on dissent, is to silence people.” “Harth stated. “As a result, people are afraid. People who have family members in China who are being targeted are afraid to speak out.”
According to Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning, Beijing is not doing anything wrong. “Chinese public security authorities strictly observe international law and fully respect other countries’ judicial sovereignty,” Mao said.
The Dutch government announced this week that it was investigating the possibility of establishing two such police stations in the Netherlands, one as a virtual office in Amsterdam and the other as a physical address in Rotterdam.
Another Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Wang Wenbin, described the Safeguard Defenders-identified foreign outposts as service stations for Chinese citizens who are abroad and need assistance with tasks such as renewing their driver’s licenses.
Wang also stated that China has cracked down on what he calls transnational crimes, but that the operation was carried out in accordance with international law.
Safeguard Defenders reproduced Chinese media accounts of people suspected of alleged crimes in China being interrogated via video link from locations in other countries that Beijing allegedly did not declare to other governments in its report.
According to the group, in one case, in 2020, a Chinese man accused of environmental crimes was persuaded to return from Madrid to Qingtian, in Zhejiang province, where he turned himself in to authorities.
The Associated Press discovered a massage parlor, the Spanish headquarters of a citizens’ association from Qingtian, and a firm providing legal translation services during visits to some of the locations identified by Safeguard Defenders in Rome, Madrid, and Barcelona. There was no evidence of police stations or other Chinese government-related activity.
A worker at the Barcelona translation company confirmed to the AP that a Fuzhou Police Overseas Service Station operated on the premises in a test-drive capacity for a few weeks this year.
The employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to journalists or the press, stated that the police service center provided document renewal services to Fuzhou citizens living in the Barcelona area who were unable to return to China due to pandemic travel restrictions and high flight costs.
Marton Tompos, a lawmaker in Hungary’s capital, said one of the two locations had a sign that said Qingtian Overseas Police Station. Tompos stated that he was unable to contact anyone associated with the sites and that the sign had been removed when he returned days later.
According to a Portuguese TV report, one of the venues appeared to be a car shop run by a Chinese man and located in an industrial complex in northern Portugal. The man denied any ties to the Chinese government, despite appearing in a video promoting the Beijing Winter Olympics and claiming to be the president of a local organization that assists Chinese immigrants.
Following the BBC’s report last week, both police and the Chinese Embassy in Tanzania denied the presence of a Chinese-run police station in the country’s commercial hub and former capital, Dar es Salaam.
In Lesotho, a kingdom in southern Africa, national police Senior Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli also denied the existence of any Chinese law enforcement activities. He said such operations would be illegal as any form of policing in Lesotho is conducted by local authorities.