According to the report from Spain-based human rights group Safeguard Defenders Patrol and Persuade, Beijing established at least 102 undercover Chinese police stations in 53 countries to monitor and force its exiled citizens, mainly dissidents, to return to China to face charges.
“Everything indicates that the work [of the stations] is being taken on by the Chinese secret intelligence services,” Jorge Serrano, a security expert and member of the team of advisors to Peru’s Congressional Intelligence Commission, told Diálogo on December 27, 2022. “China has its power base […] in the institutions in charge of social control and repression of dissent, of internal and external espionage, which are the Chinese secret services.”
The Chinese government claims that the overseas police service stations were created to help with administrative procedures for Chinese citizens living abroad, and as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, CNN reported.
However, the police stations that Safeguard documents date back to 2016. Public security bureaus in four Chinese cities — Nantong, Wenzhou, Qingtian, and Fuzhou — oversee these Chinese police stations as part of the programs Fox Hunt and Sky Net, which pursue fugitives abroad.
Between April 2021 and July 2022, Chinese police “persuaded” 230,000 of its citizens to return to the country “voluntarily.” China uses “persuasion” methods that include intimidation, harassment, and threats made against the individuals and their family members in China, and also carries out direct abductions on foreign soil, the investigation detailed.
“What is serious is that these police stations are implemented in an illegal, abusive, and overbearing manner in several continents of the world,” Serrano said. “[It’s] a dual-use practice that they apply to fight, persecute, torture, and blackmail political dissidence abroad, and carry out espionage in favor of the Chinese dictatorship.”
Espionage in Latin America
Although most of the Chinese police stations are in Europe, Latin America has several stations. Two are in Ecuador, in Guayaquil and Quito; two others are in Brazil, in Rio de Janeiro and in Sao Paulo; while there is also a station in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and others in Colombia, Chile, Cuba, and Peru, the report said.
“This means they are all over Latin America,” Serrano said. “There are Chinese centers that work from restaurants or laundromats. They are fronts for these illegal police stations. The same system is used […] to hide weapons and electronic espionage equipment.”
“What we see coming from China are increasing attempts to crack down on dissent everywhere in the world, to threaten people, harass people, make sure they are fearful enough so that they remain silent or else face being returned to China against their will,” Laura Harth, Safeguard Defenders campaign director, told CNN.
“Chinese colonies around the world know that the long tentacles of the Chinese government can reach out anywhere to catch up with them and persecute and even assassinate them,” Serrano said. “Beijing knows it’s not going to have organized, structured dissent, because it can break laws from abroad to go after them.”
These operations evade official bilateral police and judicial cooperation, violate international law and the territorial integrity of third countries by installing a parallel policing mechanism using illegal methods, Safeguard Defenders noted in a previous report.
The establishment of Chinese police centers around the world prompted investigations in at least 14 countries, the Patrol and Persuade report indicates. The governments of Canada, Chile, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States have launched investigations.
In Chile, Interior Minister Carolina Tohá said that there is a Chinese “police base” in the city of Viña del Mar. “We can only say in this regard that this is a case that is international in nature […]. Right now, we are taking part in the investigation,” Minister Tohá said, Chilean newspaper El Mostrador reported.
“If China establishes persecution and espionage and even detention centers, it is one step away from carrying out assassinations and pass them off as common crimes, a method used by the intelligence services of dictatorship countries,” Serrano said. “If all countries become aware that this is a common threat, the way to confront it will be in a joint and coordinated manner. Beijing is acting without restraint in the world.”
“What has to be done is that all the intelligence services of the democratic states […] must establish an international coalition, where the United States and NATO work together with the countries of Africa and Latin America, in actions focused exclusively on these Chinese centers,” Serrano concluded.