How China’s security services target overseas dissidents

Chinese Communist Party set up ‘Police Service Centers’ abroad to monitor ‘suspects,’ report reveals

China has opened dozens of what it calls “110 Overseas Police Service Centers” in cities around the world. Some of these are being used to blackmail suspects into returning home to face criminal charges in breach of global extradition laws, a new report revealed.

There are also fears the networks are targeting political dissidents, as well as criminal suspects.

The investigation by the human rights group Safeguard Defenders said that while the overseas police service centers may help the Chinese diaspora and tourists with everyday problems, they are also part of a complex global web of surveillance and control.

This has allowed the ruling Communist Party to reach far beyond China’s borders.

The report has claimed that Chinese regional police forces have set up at least 54 offices on five continents, according to freely available official data. The centers are named after the police emergency telephone number in China, 110.

The police service stations connect with local Chinese Overseas Home Associations in foreign countries, which in turn are linked to the Chinese Communist Party. The authors say a key method used to track down suspects involves so-called “persuasion to return” operations.

This can include targeting families in China in order to pressure them through means of intimidation, harassment, detention, or imprisonment into persuading their family members to return “voluntarily.”

Undercover agents

It also involves approaching the target online or through undercover agents abroad to threaten and harass the suspect.

“These operations eschew official bilateral police and judicial cooperation and violate the 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 stated.

In an email to Voice of America, the Chinese embassy in London said the Safeguard Defenders report was “rife with speculation and lies.”

It added: “China’s judicial and law-enforcement authorities strictly abide by international rules and respect the judicial sovereignty of other countries.”

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But China appears to be doing little to conceal the operations.

A video produced in 2020 by the prosecutor’s office in the western city of Lishui shows police conducting a remote video call with a suspect in Madrid, who was accused of criminal environmental pollution in his home city.

A representative of the suspect’s family in Lishui sat alongside the police and prosecutors.

The video showed the suspect was “persuaded” to return home to face charges. Subsequent photographs also showed the target in handcuffs at an airport in China. Since the publication of the Safeguard Defenders report last month, Spain confirmed it is investigating the incident.

Laura Harth, a co-author of the study, said the Chinese Communist Party has long tried to control and monitor overseas Chinese through what it calls “United Front Work” organizations.

“A lot of the overseas Chinese hometown associations, United Front Work organizations, we’ve known they’ve been involved in, let’s say, controlling – patrolling in a way – the overseas community,” she said.

Targeting individuals

“But what we’re now seeing, and what came out of this report, is how all these systems are increasingly being integrated. They want to instill that fear – that you are not safe anywhere,” Harth added.

Chinese authorities boast that between April 2021 and July 2022, they “persuaded” more than 230,000 Chinese nationals to return home to face criminal proceedings. Many are accused of committing fraud through online and telephone scams.

Still, Harth said China is also targeting other individuals.

“Overseas Chinese dissidents, critics of the regime, religious and ethnic minorities anywhere in the world … The Chinese regime is becoming increasingly brazen, in pursuing these illegal means across the globe and not even hiding it very well,” she said.

“Equally worrying is the fact that democratic governments are apparently not very aware or even concerned about this happening on their soil in violation of their territorial sovereignty, really undermining basic freedoms, human rights of individuals that are residing within their territories,” Harth told VOA.

Protests erupted in Hong Kong in 2019. Photo: File

The report lists three 110 Overseas Police Service Centers in Britain, taken from official documents. At one premise in north London visited by VOA, three businesses appeared to operate from the address – a real estate agency, a language college, and a law firm.

They denied any links to the Chinese government, but they declined an interview.

Most of the local Chinese community told VOA they did not know about the overseas police centers and did not want to be interviewed on camera. The British government told VOA that “any foreign country operating on British soil must abide by British law” — but it did not confirm whether it was investigating.

Finn Lau knows about the long reach of the Chinese Communist Party. As a leader of the 2019 Hong Kong protests against Beijing, he was sought by Chinese police and fled to Britain. But he was not safe in London.

In 2020, on a street close to his south London home, he was attacked by three masked men who he is convinced were working for the Chinese government.

Serious threat

“They didn’t say anything racist, they didn’t take any of my personal belongings. I don’t really feel safe in London, especially after the physical or near-death assault in London,” Lau told VOA.

“For years we have [had] many Chinese and Hong Kong dissidents being followed or assaulted by the Chinese Communist Party [for] different means,” he said.

Lau said that Britain, and other governments, must take the threat more seriously.

“I would say there is a growing awareness coming from maybe MI5 [the British intelligence services] or other agencies. [But] in terms of local authorities’ level, [such as] the Metropolitan London police, their awareness of the CCP threat is quite low,” he said.

This article is republished courtesy of Voice of America. Read the original article here.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of China Factor.