On 12 September, Safeguard Defenders published a report titled ‘110 Overseas: Chinese Transnational Policing Gone Wild’. The report states that 30 Chinese surveillance stations were established in 25 cities across 21 countries at the start of 2022. Safeguard Defenders have, so far, identified a further 24.Europe is home to most of these Chinese overseas police service stations.
Safeguard Defenders is a human rights non-profit organisation based in Spain which was founded in late 2016. The latest Safeguard Defenders’ report is the result of an investigation into the Chinese police’s expanding global policing “toolkit” following the release of new data from the Chinese government.
The surveillance stations are under the jurisdiction of the Fuzhou Public Security Bureau in Fujian Province, which falls under the Chinese Ministry of Public Security. The Overseas Police Service Stations run by the Fuzhou County (Fujian Province) Public Security Bureau call themselves “110 Overseas service stations”, referring to the Chinese police emergency number, 110.
The Chinese government has claimed that the stations provide vital services to its citizens living abroad, though the report notes that many of the services are those that would be traditionally carried out by an overseas embassy and some of the stations have been found to help Chinese police conduct so-called “persuasion sessions” remotely.
“This is all taking place under the radar, outside of the view of in this case the British people and the British police, targeting the Chinese diaspora,” Peter Dahlin, director of Safeguard Defenders, told The Telegraph.
In one example documented by Chinese media, a police “service” station in Madrid tracked down a man wanted in China for environmental pollution and had him sit down for a video call with public security agents and a prosecutor from China’s Zhejiang province. A family member of the man was asked to sit next to the Chinese authorities in China during the call – a move that can be interpreted as a thinly veiled threat.
Other examples of possible blackmail listed by Safeguard Defenders are authorities threatening to cut electricity to the homes of families back home, or restricting access to public schools for relatives.
As Fox News reported, the stations also serve as centres to spread Chinese government propaganda and monitor the behaviour and opinions of Chinese nationals.
The report noted that these operations violate international rule of law and may violate the territorial integrity of third countries involved in setting up a parallel policing mechanism using illegal methods.
The report contains five new revelations regarding China’s global policing and the repression of Chinese citizens on foreign soil:
Between April 2021 and July 2022, Chinese police “persuaded” 230,000 claimed fugitives to return to China “voluntarily” (while admitting not all the targets have committed any crimes).
Established nine forbidden countries, where Chinese nationals are no longer allowed to live unless they have “good reason.”
New tools for “persuasion” operations laid down on paper, including denying the target’s children in China the right to education, and other limitations on family members, punishing those without suspicion of any wrongdoing by “guilt by association” (similar to the North Korean practice). It also includes government documents stating relatives in China that do not help police “persuade” targets should be investigated and punished by either police or the internal Party police the CCDI.
The establishment of at least 54 police-run “overseas police service centres” across five continents, some of which are implicated in collaborating with Chinese police in carrying out policing operations on foreign soil (including in Spain).
A new law adopted on 2 September, going into effect on 1 December, establishes full extraterritoriality over Chinese and foreigners globally for certain crimes (fraud, telecom fraud, online scams, etc.).
54 “overseas service stations” in 30 countries
Based on open-source information Safeguard Defenders have so far identified 54 physical “overseas service stations” in 30 countries across five continents, “some of which are implicated in collaborating with Chinese police in carrying out policing operations on foreign soil (including in Spain),” the report states. “As these only represent the stations set up by Fuzhou and Qingtian Counties, the total number is most likely higher,” Safeguard Defenders wrote.
On 22 January 2022, the Director of the Overseas Chinese Police Office of the Public Security Bureau in Fuzhou City announced the Bureau had opened its “first batch” of 30 overseas police service stations in 25 cities in 21 countries.
The list of thirty initial Fuzhou “110 Overseas” offices is clearly expanding rapidly …
There is no complete list of such “110 Overseas” police service stations available, but the initial list, along with further stations identified by Safeguard Defenders via government announcement, provides a clue to how it looks worldwide, even though the number is undoubtedly larger and such stations more widespread.
Safeguard Defenders contend that the stations function mainly as outposts for the Chinese policy of “involuntary return” – China’s covert operations to force fugitives overseas back home.
In a report published in January, Safeguard Defenders investigated 62 cases of both failed and successful attempts at what the Chinese government refers to as “voluntary returns by any means necessary.” As Safeguard Defenders noted, “any means” is to be taken literally. Based on the 62 cases, Safeguard Defenders mapped three types of what is more accurately described as “involuntary returns” according to the methods Chinese authorities employed. Broadly speaking, they are:
Europe is home to most of the Chinese police stations, with locations spread across the continent in places such as London, Amsterdam, Prague, Budapest, Athens, Paris, Madrid and Frankfurt. North America is also home to four of the stations, with three locations in Toronto and one in New York City.
Chinese Police Stations in the UK
The report lists three Chinese “overseas service stations” in the UK: one in Glasgow and two in London. The Telegraph reported that these Chinese police stations are often run from innocuous locations such as Chinese restaurants or convenience stores.
China has opened unofficial police stations in London as part of a growing network of Communist Party-linked offices accused of hunting down and blackmailing Chinese citizens to force them to return home.
The growth of the informal police stations comes as China is accused of harassing political dissidents on foreign soil, including in the UK. There is no evidence the “police stations” have been used for this purpose.
One of the two police “service” stations in London is registered as an estate agency. Another one based in Glasgow is a Chinese restaurant.
The Telegraph visited the estate agency in north London, which denied any links. But they said the office is also used by a legal firm. Its website says it deals predominantly with Chinese immigration issues.
Another food delivery office in Croydon said to be part of the network also denied links when visited by a reporter.
The Home Office said any requests for repatriation of suspected foreign criminals must be made in accordance with UK and international law. Illegal repatriation efforts will not be tolerated, it added.
China has opened at least three police stations on Canadian soil as part of an alleged attempt by the country’s security state to keep an eye on the Chinese-Canadian diaspora, The National Post reported.
The locations of Toronto’s stations render them nearly invisible to the public. One is listed as a private home, the second a largely Chinese mall, and the third in the office of a Chinese non-profit.
China has defended the practice of setting up what are essentially police stations in other countries, saying that the majority of the work done there is akin to what would take place at an embassy.