China: More illegal police stations overseas than previously thought
China appears to have many more illegal overseas police stations around the world to track down Chinese citizens than previously thought. A new report by human rights organization Safeguard Defenders shows it covers at least 102 offices in 53 countries, including the Netherlands. It was previously reported that it involved just over fifty offices. For several years, Beijing has been extremely active in tracking Chinese citizens abroad who may be guilty of telecommunications or internet fraud. They are intimidated and threatened from overseas offices to “persuade” them to return to China so they can face trial. Such offices are against diplomatic rules. According to China, these are just “overseas service offices” where citizens can get help renewing their passports or driving licenses. The report Patrolling and persuadingwhich was published on Monday, follows the report published in September 110 overseas, which reports the existence of more than fifty Chinese police stations abroad. The title of the report refers to the national emergency number of the Chinese police.
According to the report, the Netherlands also had two police stations, in Amsterdam and Rotterdam. At the beginning of November, Minister Wopke Hoekstra (Foreign Affairs, CDA) called this “completely unacceptable” and demanded an immediate closure.
Other countries alarmed by the findings have also launched investigations or closed offices in China, including Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Austria and Spain. During the G20 in Bali in late November, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau revealed that he raised Chinese “interference” in his country during a bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping – much to the dismay of Xi, who saw Trudeau in front of the cameras.
Eleven offices in Italy
The report released on Monday shows that Italy is home to 11 Chinese service offices, the highest number of any country. Chinese offices are also active in countries such as Australia, New Zealand, United Arab Emirates, Croatia and Romania. In Italy, the Chinese influence goes even further. The country has signed several bilateral agreements since 2015 for cooperation between Chinese and Italian police units in several cities, including Milan, Rome, Venice and Prato, near Florence. Chinese police are assisting their Italian colleagues, apparently to help and protect Chinese tourists.
Remarkably, the human rights organization notes that the Italian authorities have not yet announced an investigation into the operation of the Chinese offices, nor condemned their existence. In September, the Interior Ministry under Mario Draghi’s government said it was “not alarmed” by the offices.
The Chinese investigation focuses, among other things, on suspects who try to use chat programs to persuade people to invest in products that appear legal. To enforce this “demand”, family members in China are intimidated or cut off from public services and education. Previous reports from Safeguard Defenders show that threats are not being avoided, even if the individuals in question have not been proven to have committed criminal offences.
According to Safeguard Defenders, China claims that between April 2021 and July 2022, 230,000 Chinese suspects have already been “persuaded” to return successfully. A Chinese Foreign Ministry official in Shanghai openly admitted to the Spanish newspaper in October El Correo that China is indeed trying to force nationals to return to China. “Bilateral treaties are very laborious and Europe resists extradition to China. I don’t see what’s wrong with pressuring criminals for justice to take its course,” said the official, who wished to remain anonymous. The statement showed how China views international conventions relating to to crime. Bringing criminals or dissidents to justice is more important than respecting the international legal order. Safeguard Defenders operates out of Madrid and focuses primarily on human rights abuses in China. On Thursday, Safeguard Defenders researchers will inform the European Parliament of the results in a public hearing.
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