China accused of opening ‘illegal police stations’ in UK and Europe

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China has been accused of setting up undeclared “police stations” in European countries, including the UK, Netherlands, and Spain. The claims were first brought by a non-governmental organisation (NGO), Safeguard Defenders, who are based in Spain. The organisation released a report in September, which claimed the Chinese government had set up “overseas Chinese police ‘service stations’”, which they alleged were established across five continents.

The report added there were three unauthorised “police stations” in the UK, two of which were located in London and a third in Glasgow.

The purpose of these facilities are given as accommodating tasks such as the renewal of driving licences for Chinese citizens residing in European countries.

Tasks such as this are usually carried out by embassies or consulates, where diplomatic rules are in force.

But the NGO claims the centres are set up by public security bodies from two Chinese provinces, the Fuzhou and Qingtian police agencies, intended to leverage Chinese citizens into returning to Chinese soil, or to prevent dissenters from speaking out against the Chinese Communist Party regime.

They identified 54 centres in their report, spread across 21 countries.

Wang Wenbin, spokesperson for Chinese Foreign Affairs, said on Wednesday that the facilities described by the Spain-based NGO “are actually service stations for Chinese citizens abroad”, the BBC reported.

In light of coronavirus restrictions having impeded citizens’ return to China, the stations were to “help [citizens] overcome difficulties”, he continued.

According to the BBC, he said: “Relevant local governments have opened online service platforms.

“Such services are mainly targeted at physical examinations and changing drivers’ licences.”

But Dutch outlet RTL News, in a joint probe with investigative journalism outlet Follow the Money, publicised testimony from a dissident Chinese citizen, Wang Jingyu, now resident in the Netherlands.

He claimed to have received a message from a person claiming to be from the Rotterdam Chinese police station, saying: “He asked me to go back to China to solve my problems. He also told me to think about my parents.”

RTL News then claimed the Chinese government “never informed the Dutch government” about the facilities known as “overseas service stations”.

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The outlet was then told by the Chinese Embassy that it did not know of any “police stations” in the Netherlands.

The Dutch government is now investigating the reports, with the foreign ministry saying in a statement: “We are investigating exactly what they are doing here and will then take appropriate action.”

Maxime Hovenkamp, spokesperson for the Dutch foreign ministry, told the BBC: “The Dutch government wasn’t made aware of these operations through the diplomatic channels with the Chinese government. That is illegal.”

She continued: “It is very worrying [that] a Chinese national has apparently been subjected to intimidation and harassment here in the Netherlands.

“Police are looking into options to offer him protection.”

Professor Kerry Brown, director of the Lau China Institute, said that Beijing would need “specific permission” to establish “police liaison or other security functions in other countries”.

Without gaining said permission, he added, “these activities would be illegal”.

Under the Vienna convention, to which both the Netherlands and China are subscribers, permission must be obtained to gather intelligence on foreign soil.

But Beijing “stresses mutual respect for sovereignty and non-interference”, Professor Brown explained to Express.co.uk, commenting: “If it is undertaking actions in violation of this, it must be asked to stop immediately.”

However, he qualified, “police liaison is a standard and quite common consular and diplomatic job”, which means absolute clarity on the allegations is required.

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