The government’s crackdown inside China is prompting a crackdown on dissidents outside the country, including increased surveillance, according to human rights experts.
Two New York residents, Lu Jianwang, 61, and Chen Jinping, 59, were arrested last month on federal charges of setting up and operating a “secret police station” on behalf of the Chinese government’s Ministry of Public Security. The arrests have drawn additional attention to alleged stations operated internationally by the Chinese Communist Party on five continents, including Europe, North America and Africa.
The police stations should be understood in the context that the Chinese government has been persecuting Chinese dissidents living abroad for several years, said Yaqui Wang, senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch. news week in a telephone conversation.
“There are so many people who are fleeing China basically because they criticized the government, or because they are in trouble with the government for other reasons,” he said.
The Madrid-based non-governmental organization (NGO) Safeguard Defenders documented the establishment of the stations in June 2022. The stations began as pilot programs run by the public security bureaus of Fuzhou and Qingtian counties and operated in 25 cities.
updated data published by Safeguard Defenders in December detailed more than 100 reported underground police stations in some 50 countries controlled by various entities of China’s Ministry of Public Security, on behalf of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
Laura Harth, campaign manager for Safeguard Defenders, said news week that South Africa is the only country they have seen that explicitly gave their consent.
Nations like Italy have engaged in what she called “deliberate blindness” to such activities, though officials there have rejected the idea of condoning citizens being targeted. A 2015 bilateral agreement on joint police patrols to help Chinese-speaking tourists appears to have contributed to the establishment of a station. The program ended in 2022.
The Italian Ministry of the Interior told the national daily the folgio last September that the Chinese stations “were not of particular concern,” according to The Guardian.
“Despite having the largest number of liaison posts on its territory, the Italian government is one of the few European countries that has not yet publicly announced an investigation into Chinese police stations abroad or declared their illegality,” Safeguard Defenders reported.
Safeguard Defenders focuses heavily on enforced disappearances in the PRC and how its authorities discuss them, Harth said. Through the work of the NGO helping defendants stop extraditions to China, Harth said they saw increasingly clandestine methods of returning people to China for prosecution.
“And once we saw those initials [police] stations, we knew this was probably going to be something that would get the attention of authorities in democratic nations,” Harth said.
crackdown in china
Wang said news week that more attention has been drawn to human rights issues in China due to rising tensions between China and the United States.
“Whether the Chinese government is going to intensify its intimidation and harassment of the Chinese diaspora depends on how other governments deal with this problem,” Wang said.
A United Nations report released last August indicated that the Chinese government committed abuses that may amount to crimes against humanity in its alleged attacks on Uyghurs and other Turkic communities in the Xinjiang region.
“This report must be understood in the context of China having a lot of influence at the UN, and having this report in such strong language is already a great achievement,” he said. “So I would say this is progress. It shows that China’s influence in the UN and other international institutions is waning due to its gross violations and other countries are backing down.”
While China is known to crack down on the rights of its citizens, Wang said it is difficult to estimate how many people have been harassed or imprisoned by the PRC, saying “there are a large number of people.”
Hong Kong is a strong example of a crackdown prompting Chinese residents to flee the country. City people have seen their freedoms “decimated” and many of them have gone into exile and organized in countries like the United States and the United Kingdom. Those people are “playing a very important role in pushing back and speaking out.”
It sounds like sinicization, Wang said, referring to acculturation or assimilation of Chinese norms into neighboring East Asian societies or minority ethnic groups within China.
“The Chinese government wants minorities to be more like Chinese,” he said. “That’s why they’re cracking down on religious cultural practices in Xinjiang; that’s why they’re banning men from having beards, banning women from having [a] veil because those are not Chinese practices.”
The “broader umbrella of government sinicization,” including political, cultural and religious crackdowns on Uyghurs, Tibetans and others, has led to the flight of minorities in China, he added.
The global response
President Xi Jinping’s battle for supremacy on an international stage has “accelerated” the crackdown on criticism of China’s government both within its borders and around the world.
Harth referred to the secret stations as the “tip of the iceberg”. The consequences have spread to the rest of the world, with the likelihood of an increase in similar operations.
“As we see internal repression grow, it was never good,” Harth said. “But it’s getting exponentially worse since Xi Jinping came to power.”
Democratic nations have a responsibility to understand how stations are set up, such as abuse of international mechanisms such as Interpol, bilateral agreements such as extraditions and police cooperation agreements, as well as not registering under the Foreign Agents Registration Act ( FARA).
In April, the White House was asked about the stations, linked to possible Chinese surveillance following multiple spy balloon incidents, but neglected to comment.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the presence of these Chinese stations in his country “is of great concern to us.” Two stations in Quebec were specifically under investigation after Chinese Canadians were allegedly victimized, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“We have learned about the [presence of] Chinese police stations across the country for many months, and we are making sure that the RCMP is following up and that our intelligence services take it seriously,” Trudeau said in March.
Following the arrests in New York City, Royal Canadian Mounted Police spokesman Robin Percival said news week that the “RCMP is actively investigating nationwide reports of criminal activity in connection with so-called ‘police’ stations.”
The incident also drew the attention of officials in other countries.
French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said in comments shared with news week that “under no circumstances will France tolerate attacks on its sovereignty”.
“It intends to vigorously combat foreign influences on its territory and will not allow international rules providing for the admission of these citizens to undermine our good relations with certain nations,” he added, “be it China or any other country.”
A spokesman for the German Federal Ministry of the Interior and the Community said news week no permanent offices have been established.
“The Chinese Embassy has been requested to immediately end activities outside the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic and Consular Relations and close existing ‘overseas Chinese police stations’ in Germany. There is an exchange with the Embassy of China on this matter,” the spokesman said.
“These are people who are attacked and are not able to enjoy their fundamental freedoms as they should because they are residents or citizens of our democratic nations,” Harth said. “They are going to increase these kinds of things… Now we really need to start increasing our countermeasures to make sure that people on our soil are protected and we speak with one voice to Beijing when we say this is not acceptable. “