China has developed a network of overseas “police stations” to conduct covert operations aimed at forcing Chinese nationals, mostly political dissidents wanted by Beijing, to return to China, according to a report by a human rights group.
The Chinese Ministry of Public Security police operations netted 230,000 Chinese nationals from April 2021 through July who were “persuaded” to return to China as part of criminal investigations into fraud and computer crime, according to an investigation released by Safeguard Defenders.
The report noted that police operations code-named Fox Hunt included forced repatriations of 10,000 “high-value” people from 120 countries by the end of 2021.
“Our deep-dive into individual cases also demonstrated how only about 50% of those reported were successful, and how most involved dissidents or individuals that had fled religious and/or ethnic persecution,” the report said.
The 21-page report, “110 Overseas: Chinese Transnational Policing Gone Wild,” is based on data provided by the Chinese government. The report was published last month by the Spain-based human rights organization. It provides new details on secret Chinese police operations that the Justice Department has labeled “transnational repression.”
One veteran China watcher called the findings a cause for deep concern and a sign of China‘s attitude toward the rights of other nations.
SEE ALSO: San Francisco celebrates Chinese communism in flag-raising to honor founding of nation
“The presence of PRC police in nations across Europe and the rest of the world is increasingly alarming,” said retired Navy Capt. Jim Fanell, a former Pacific Fleet intelligence chief. “The notion that nation-states cannot police their populations without the assistance of the People’s Armed Police is not only an attack on the sovereignty of these nations but is a reminder that the Chinese Communist Party continues on their path of global domination.”
Charles Burton, a former Canadian diplomat posted in Beijing, denounced the Chinese police activities in Canada as clear violations of national sovereignty.
“This is an outrage,” Mr. Burton, now with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute in Ottawa, Ontario, wrote in a recent op-ed article for The Globe and Mail newspaper. “Chinese police setting up offices in Canada, then ‘persuading’ alleged criminals to return to the motherland to face ‘justice’ — while our own government and security services apparently choose to look the other way — represents a gross violation of Canada’s national sovereignty, international law and the norms of diplomacy.”
The Justice Department is prosecuting several cases of Chinese officials charged with illegal harassment of dissidents in the United States.
“These operations eschew official bilateral police and judicial cooperation and violate the international rule of law, and may violate the territorial integrity in third countries involved in setting up a parallel policing mechanism using illegal methods,” the report states.
SEE ALSO: Chinese espionage, cyber programs pose major counterintelligence threat, Senate report warns
The Chinese call their overseas police operations “110 Overseas” after the national emergency telephone number. At least 54 of the police “overseas service stations” were identified in 30 nations on five continents. Most are in Europe.
The report identifies one Chinese service station in New York and three in Canada that the report says are used to support Chinese activities targeting overseas Chinese under the euphemism “persuasion to return.”
A spokesman for the New York Police Department referred questions about the Chinese police station to the Justice Department and FBI. The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for a statement, and the FBI declined to comment.
A Chinese Embassy spokesman also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
According to the rights groups, the overseas police operations are used to target dissidents, corrupt officials and low-level criminals, and pressure the targets directly or by threatening family members still in China. The police operations are part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign, which has also served as a massive political purge of Mr. Xi’s rivals since he took power in 2013.
The report states that the covert police operations also leverage the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department front groups. The department is an influence and intelligence agency that has set up Chinese “Overseas Home Associations” on five continents that are linked to the secret police work, the report said.
The covert operations use three methods of “involuntary returns” to force targets to return to China: by tracking down family members in China and using intimidation, harassment, detention or imprisonment to pressure the family member to return “voluntarily,” by directly targeting a person online or through undercover agents or proxies who threaten and harass the target into returning voluntarily, and through kidnappings of targets on foreign soil.
The FBI has identified secret Chinese assassination teams based in Hong Kong that can be deployed rapidly to kill Chinese nationals targeted overseas. The teams were disclosed in court papers in a Chinese spy case in Los Angeles several years ago.
The Justice Department has prosecuted several indictments of Chinese state-sponsored repression of U.S.-based dissidents.
A U.S. citizen and four Chinese nationals from the Ministry of State Security (MSS), the intelligence service, were charged in May with conspiracy and other charges related to an espionage and transnational repression operation involving pro-democracy human rights activists.
“We will not tolerate efforts by the PRC or any authoritarian government to export repressive measures to our country,” said Matthew G. Olsen, assistant attorney general and chief of the national security division.
Two months earlier, the Justice Department unsealed an indictment of another MSS official charged with hiring a private investigator to harass and physically assault a Chinese pro-democracy activist.
China‘s rulers are using police operations to remind the millions who left China that they are still subject to the dictates of the ruling Communist Party.
“This provides Beijing with an army of conscripts in foreign nations who will execute Beijing‘s bidding,” Capt. Fanell said. “Free and open nations should reject this overt interference.”