By Angeline Tan
The communist regime in China has established more than 100 “police stations” globally for surveillance of its citizens based overseas. Occasionally, these police stations rely on bilateral security arrangements with African and European countries to repatriate Chinese citizens living in exile.
According to Madrid-based non-governmental organization (NGO) Safeguard Defenders, China has set up 48 more police stations overseas since the NGO first uncovered 54 such stations in September 2022. This brings the total number of Chinese-run police stations to 102 across 53 countries.
Safeguard Defenders, a group that scrutinizes official Chinese documents for proofs of alleged human rights abuses, recently unveiled a new report titled “Patrol and Persuade.” This report shows the extent of Beijing’s global influence and evaluates the significance of joint policing measures between China and several European nations, including Italy, Croatia, Serbia, and Romania, in enabling a multiplication of Chinese overseas stations beyond what was previously known.
One of the latest allegations made by Safeguard Defenders is that a Chinese citizen was forcibly sent back to China by undercover operatives from a Chinese overseas police station in a Paris suburb; the operatives were specifically hired for that role. The NGO said that this “contradicts PRC authorities’ statements that the stations are merely providing ‘administrative services.’”
Moreover, an earlier revelation indicated that two more Chinese exiles have been repatriated from Serbia and Spain.
The NGO claimed it has singled out four different police jurisdictions of China’s Ministry of Public Security operating across at least 53 countries, covering all corners of the globe, supposedly to help Chines citizens living overseas.
In response, Beijing has dismissed the claims of Safeguard Defender. The communist regime asserts that it does not operate undeclared police forces beyond Chinese territory, but claimed that the officers were merely working at administrative centers established to help Chinese expatriates with errands such as renewing their driver’s licenses. The Chinese claims contrasted with the Safeguard Defenders assertions that China’s overseas offices had been around for some years prior to Covid-19.
China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry announced that the offices helped to deal with the fallout of the Covid-19 outbreak. Due to the Covid-19 lockdowns, many Chinese citizens could not renew their documents.
Furthermore, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs told the globalist CNN news outlet in November, “We hope that relevant parties stop hyping it up to create tensions. Using this as a pretext to smear China is unacceptable.”
Additionally, the ministry said volunteers staffed the overseas stations. Yet the NGO’s latest report asserts that one police network it investigated had hired 135 people for its first 21 stations.
To boot, the organization sourced a three-year contract for a worker employed at an overseas station in Stockholm.
Unless a host nation has given their clear approval, clandestine consular activities beyond a nation’s official diplomatic missions are unlawful and rare.
The revelations of large-scale suppression of Chinese citizens in foreign countries comes amid domestic furor back in China. Recently, nationwide protests erupted to oppose leader Xi Jinping’s stringent zero-Covid controls, in spite of Xi securing a third term in power during the Chinese Communist Party Congress in October this year. In an apparent bow to public pressure, Xi’s regime hinted that it would ease some of its virus restrictions, three years after the emergence of Covid-19.
As the second-largest economy in the world, China has stepped up its efforts to woo many of the countries where the new police stations are allegedly located, throwing light on the delicate balancing act national governments have to grapple with between national security and commercial issues.
Italy, which inked a series of bilateral security deals with China over successive governments since 2015, allegedly has the largest number of these illegal police stations. Safeguard Defenders posited that Italy hosts 11 Chinese police stations. The Italian stations are in Rome, Milan, Bolzano, Venice, Florence, Prato, and Sicily.
Previously, Italian newspaper La Nazione reported that local investigations into one of the stations had not uncovered any illegal activity. Il Foglio cited police chiefs as commenting recently that the stations did not spark any cause for worry, as they seemed to be merely bureaucratic.
Between 2016 and 2018, Italian police participated in multiple joint patrols with Chinese police — first in Rome and Milan, and later in other cities including Naples. Safeguard Defenders says that at the same time, it has proof that a video surveillance system was installed in a Chinese residential area “to effectively deter crimes there.”
In 2016, an Italian police official revealed to NPR that joint policing would “lead to a wider international cooperation, exchange of information and sharing resources to combat the criminal and terrorist groups that afflict our countries.”
Italian police officials attended one ceremony in Rome to commemorate the opening of a new station in 2018. This information was garnered from videos posted on Chinese websites and reflects the cozy relationship between police forces in Italy and China.
Safeguard Defenders also asserted that the Italian government’s cooperation with the Chinese central government directly led to the establishment of these stations back in 2016.
“A 2015 Ministry of Public Security bilateral agreement on joint police patrols with the Italian government appears to have contributed directly to the later establishment of European ‘pilot’ stations in Milan in 2016 (by Wenzhou police) and 2018 (by Qingtian police),” the NGO report said.
“To date, despite having the largest number of liaison outposts on its soil, the Italian government is among the very few European countries that has not yet publicly announced an investigation into the Chinese Overseas Police Stations or declared their illegality,” the report continued, insinuating a lack of transparency from Italy.
In contrast, other European countries such as Germany have begun active investigations on allegations by Safeguard Defenders.
The NGO report about the situation in Germany stated that Chinese facilities are believed to be “run by private individuals from the Chinese diaspora.” Five “area officers” — one of them in Berlin — provide legal advice to Chinese and Germans with Chinese roots, as well as paperwork assistance .
There are two unofficial Chinese “police stations” in Germany, according to the government in Berlin.
“Two so-called ‘overseas police stations’ exist in Germany to the knowledge of the German government,” according to a government response to a written question from a member of Parliament.
Berlin is “in communication with the Chinese embassy on this matter,” it said. According to reports, the foreign office has written a note of protest.
The interior ministry said that “the federal security authorities have been keeping an eye on the existence of such facilities for some time … and are vigorously pursuing all leads.”