Dutch media report says China is conducting unofficial police operation to pressure dissidents
The Chinese government has been accused of establishing at least two undeclared “police stations” in the Netherlands.
Dutch media has found evidence that “overseas service stations”, which promise to provide diplomatic services, are being used in an attempt to silence Chinese dissidents in Europe.
A spokeswoman for the Dutch Foreign Ministry said the existence of these unofficial police stations was illegal.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry rejected the Dutch allegations.
The investigation was prompted by a report titled Chinese Transnational Policing Gone Wild, published by the Spain-based NGO Safeguard Defenders.
According to the organization, the public security bureaus of two Chinese provinces have set up 54 “overseas police service centers” on five continents and in 21 countries. Most of them are in Europe, with nine in Spain and four in Italy. In the UK, he found two in London and one in Glasgow.
These units were ostensibly created to fight transnational crime and perform administrative tasks, such as renewing Chinese driver’s licenses. But, according to Safeguard Defenders, they are in fact carrying out “persuasion operations”, aimed at forcing people suspected of opposing the Chinese regime to return to their homes.
RTL News and investigative journalism platform Follow the Money shared the story of Wang Jingyu, a Chinese dissident who said he was being chased by Chinese police in the Netherlands.
Speaking in English, Wang told Dutch reporters that he received a phone call earlier this year from someone claiming to be from one of these stations. During the conversation, he said he was urged to return to China to “work out my issues. And think about my parents.”
Since then, he described a systematic campaign of harassment and intimidation, which he said was orchestrated by Chinese government agents.
In response to these revelations, the Chinese Embassy told RTL News that it was not aware of the existence of such police stations.
Dutch foreign ministry spokesman Maxime Hovenkamp told the BBC: “The Dutch government was not made aware of these operations through diplomatic channels with the Chinese government. This is illegal.”
She said it would have to be investigated and decided on the appropriate response. “It is very worrying that a Chinese national has apparently been bullied and harassed here in the Netherlands. The police are exploring options to offer him protection,” she added.
Services such as passport renewal or visa applications are usually handled by an embassy or consulate. Diplomatic rules apply in these places, as provided for in the Vienna Convention, to which the Netherlands and China are signatories.
Police stations such as those China is accused of running could violate the territorial integrity of a host country by circumventing national jurisdictions and the protections offered by national law.
Chinese foreign affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Wednesday that what had been described as overseas police stations “are actually service stations for overseas Chinese citizens,” and that China fully respects the judicial sovereignty of other countries.
Many Chinese people have been unable to return to China due to the coronavirus, he told reporters, “To help them overcome the difficulties, relevant local governments have opened online service platforms. These services are primarily for physical examinations and change of driver’s license.”
Safeguard Defenders said China’s police tactics are “problematic” because they target suspects without firmly establishing links to the crime or following due process in host countries.
These methods consist mainly of coercing or threatening family members of suspected fugitives, in order to “persuade” them to return home, the organization said.
On September 2, a national law against telecommunications and online fraud was passed in China, establishing a claim of extraterritorial jurisdiction over all Chinese nationals worldwide suspected of these types of fraud.
In theory, this new legislation, coupled with the presence of Chinese police units on foreign soil, leaves dissidents nowhere to hide.
Pressure is now on the Dutch government to ensure that critics of the Chinese government who are granted asylum can be protected and that Dutch law prevails in the Netherlands.