In 2018, police in eastern China’s Qingtian County proudly said they had set up 15 “police duty stations” in cities around the world, with their tasks ranging from helping compatriots for paperwork to “intelligence gathering” and “overseas Chinese dispute resolution”. .
This decision, followed in January this year by the announcement by the police of China The city of Fuzhou that they had set up 30 “overseas service stations” from Buenos Aires to Tokyo – initially attracted little international attention.
But in recent weeks, the facilities have raised alarm among European governments already wary of China’s growing extraterritorial influence.
Since human rights the charity Safeguard Defenders published the first detailed review of Chinese police offices in September, the Netherlands declared two such facilities in Amsterdam and Rotterdam illegal and ordered them closed.
Ireland has requested the closure of another office in Dublin. And Britain’s Security Secretary Tom Tugendhat told parliament this month that reports of undeclared Chinese police stations were “of course extremely concerning”.
Beijing denies overseas police service stations have any role in policing, though Qingtian police named ‘foreign police work’ as one of facilities’ functions such as those it has established in Barcelona and Budapest.
“As far as we know, the institutions you referred to are not ‘police stations’ or ‘police service centers,'” the Chinese Foreign Ministry wrote in response to questions about the offices. .
The ministry insisted the facilities were used to provide administrative services, such as driving license renewals, to foreign nationals. He did not explain why such work could not be done by embassies or consulates.
“All sites are provided by overseas Chinese compatriots groups, and the volunteers are warm-hearted local Chinese compatriots. They are not Chinese police,” he said.
Yale Law School member Moritz Rudolf said administrative support and mediation in civil cases were likely the offices’ main functions.
But Rudolf, who studies the implications of China’s rise for the international legal order, said they were also a small part of Beijing’s much larger ambitions to enforce its laws outside its territory.
“Since 2019, China has passed more laws with extraterritorial applications, normal behavior for an emerging power. China is trying to catch up with the United States, but it is not even close when it comes to enforcing its national laws abroad, especially in Europe.
Qingtian police said they were using their overseas posts to support Beijing’s “persuasion to return” campaign, which circumvents official extradition processes by harassing suspects to return to China.
The “persuade to return” campaign is part of Beijing’s growing efforts to prosecute those it sees as criminals abroad, a campaign intended both to crack down on transnational crimes such as online fraud and to prosecute political targets.
The Chinese police’s official newspaper reported that overseas police stations have helped Qingtian police “achieve new breakthroughs in the pursuit of overseas fugitives.” One case involved a fraud suspect in Serbia, who returned to China after police contacted him through an “overseas police station”.
Chinese Vice Minister of Public Security Du Hangwei told a press conference in April that 210,000 fraudsters had been “persuaded” to return from overseas in 2021. He gave no details on the methods of persuasion used.
Wang Jingyu, a Chinese political dissident based in the Netherlands, claimed to have been called hundreds of times since February 2022 from a number listed in Chinese media as a station set up by Fuzhou police.
“They told me to go to the Rotterdam Overseas Police Station to surrender and think about my parents back in China. I didn’t think it was real: how could there be a Chinese police station here?
Peter Dahlin, founder of Safeguard Defenders, which has investigated police stations abroad, said Beijing was using extrajudicial pressure to coerce citizens back from European countries.
“Some of these people are good people, some are bad people, but the issue is about the right to a fair trial and freedom from torture.”
“Any attempt to illegally expatriate an individual will not be tolerated,” said Tugendhat, Britain’s security minister.
The Irish Foreign Office said last week that the Chinese Embassy in Dublin explained that the police station established in Fuzhou in the city was a local rather than a national initiative. But Foreign Secretary Simon Coveney said the facility was still “completely unacceptable”.
The increased surveillance appears to discourage police installations from maintaining a public presence. Two signs identifying an overseas police station in Budapest were recently removed from the storefront it shares with the Hungarian Association of Qingtian Hometowns.
Called this month by the Financial Times, many European station numbers listed by Chinese media went unanswered. A man speaking Mandarin Chinese answered the number given for the station in Madeira, Portugal. But he added that the line served a local association that organized social events for Fuzhou emigrants, not a police station.
Closing the stations will not end Beijing’s desire to expand its law enforcement reach. A Hong Kong National Security Act 2020 makes it an offense for anyone, anywhere to support the city’s independence from China. An online anti-fraud law that comes into effect in December criminalizes overseas scams that claim victims in China.
And conventional approaches to bringing suspects back for trial from Europe look likely to become more difficult for China.
In a decision that should set a precedent against further extraditions, the European Court of Human Rights in October blocked the transfer of a Taiwanese national from Poland to China. Credible reports of “torture and other forms of ill-treatment” amounted to a “general situation of violence” in Chinese prisons, the court ruled.
Additional reporting by Maiqi Ding in Beijing and Jude Webber in Dublin