Chinese police set up overseas posts in ‘worrying’ crackdown on overseas citizens

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Units 1 and 2 at 220 Royal Crest Court, Markham, Ont., on September 8.YADER GUZMAN/The Globe and Mail

On the evening of February 7, a Chinese woman studying in Canada called a police hotline in a panic.

“Hello, is this Fuzhou Public Security Bureau?” I was scammed,” the woman, surnamed Wang, told the operator. She described how she was scammed out of around $400 by someone calling themselves a ‘love life mentor’.

In Fuzhou, the capital of southeastern China’s Fujian province, police tracked the fraudster to Taijiang district. The man, surnamed Lin, eventually confessed to defrauding nine victims out of more than $3,700.

Ms Wang’s story has been raved about in Chinese media as the “first case of fraud on a cross-border telecom network” has been resolved since opening in 2018. from the Overseas 110 hotline, a 911-like service. The state-run Xinhua News Agency said that thanks to the hotline, “overseas Chinese can still feel the warmth of their homeland”. (Chinese media usually identifies people only by last name in crime stories.)

In addition to the hotline, according to reports, the Fuzhou Public Security Bureau (PSB) has also established more than 50 police “service stations” on five continents, including at least three in the Greater Toronto Area. , according to a list shared by the Chinese. media.

These offices are supposed to help Chinese nationals with things like filing local police reports or renewing driver’s licenses. But Chinese media reports and official government statements suggest they often overstep that jurisdiction, even going so far as to ‘persuade’ suspected criminals to return to China to face justice, according to new research from Safeguard Defenders. , a European NGO.

Safeguard Defenders said official documents show that between April 2021 and July 2022 more than 230,000 people were brought back to China in this way. Parents back home are often enlisted in the process, with reports detailing the use of harsh punishments if the accused fails to comply, such as denying children the right to attend school or demolishing houses built with them. allegedly dirty money.

In an interview with Xinhua in February, Wang Xizhang, the PSB chief of Fuzhou, said the city is committed to providing “efficient, high-quality and convenient services to overseas Chinese” such as the hotline Overseas 110, while “suppressing crimes and illegal activities involving this group.

According to a recent account in Chinese media, in April a businessman in Mozambique reported that one of his employees, surnamed Yang, stole a large sum of money from the company and fled. in China. The man was quickly arrested, then told the police that he had an accomplice who was still in Mozambique, a Mr. Yu.

Police urged Mr. Yu’s relatives who remained in China “to persuade him to surrender as soon as possible”, the report said, citing authorities in Fuzhou. They also “directly contacted Yu and explained the relevant laws and policies to him” and succeeded in “persuading him to return”.

While it is unclear to what extent this persuasion is carried out remotely and to what extent involves overseas police stations, Safeguard Defenders warned that “these methods allow the Chinese Communist Party and its security organs to circumvent the normal bilateral police and judicial cooperation mechanisms, thereby seriously undermining the international rule of law and the territorial integrity of the third countries concerned.

“This leaves legal Chinese residents abroad fully exposed to extra-legal targeting by Chinese police, with little or no protection theoretically provided by domestic and international law,” the group said.

Daria Impiombato, an analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, who was not involved in the Safeguard Defenders research, also tracked the “worrying” expansion of Chinese police presence overseas.

“Overseas Chinese citizens are already very aware that information can be sent back home and there can be repercussions for their safety or that of their loved ones” if they step out of line, Ms. Impiombato.

In a report released last month, the UN human rights office said it uncovered “patterns of intimidation, threats and reprisals” against Uyghurs and other Chinese nationals living abroad. who had come out against Beijing. Canadian officials expressed a similar concern: In January, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said there was a “growing problem” of intimidation and harassment of Chinese people in Canada.

The Globe and Mail visited three addresses in the Greater Toronto Area on a list of overseas Chinese police stations published by state media – two in Markham and one in Scarborough.

All were in areas with large Chinese populations, but no one The Globe spoke to knew of a police station or had heard of the Fuzhou Public Security Bureau. One address in Markham was a private home, while the other was a mall filled with small businesses and Chinese restaurants. The third property, located in a business park near a highway, is owned by the Canada Toronto FuQing Business Association, a federally incorporated non-profit organization.

According to its website, the CTFQBA was established “under the guidance” of a number of Chinese and Fujian government organizations, including a municipal committee of the United Front Labor Department, the body that projects influence of the Chinese Communist Party overseas.

At a session of the Thirteenth People’s Congress of Fujian Province last March, CTFQBA Honorary Chairman Weng Guoning praised the Overseas 110 system, saying it helped him feel “the warmth” of the homeland, according to reports in state media.

The CTFQBA did not respond to a request for comment. Mr. Weng could not be reached for comment. A representative from the Chinese consulate in Toronto also did not respond to a request for comment.

Much about Chinese police stations remains unclear. Even in the case of those that operate publicly, it can be difficult to determine whether they do so with the imprimatur or even with the knowledge of the host government.

Camille Boily-Lavoie, spokesperson for the RCMP, said the force would not comment on “unsubstantiated media reports or statements.”

Foreign police officers, including members of China’s Ministry of Public Security, “may be sent to Canada on diplomatic or consular missions, performing representational or liaison functions,” she added.

She said the RCMP is aware that “foreign states may seek to intimidate or harm communities or individuals in Canada” and take such threats seriously. She encouraged anyone who experiences such harassment to report it to the police.

Italian newspaper Il Foglio last week reported a press release sent to Chinese residents in Tuscany, notifying them of a new “Fuzhou Overseas Police Station” at an address in the city of Prato shared with the Cultural Association of the Chinese Community of Fujian in Italy.

Italian police told the newspaper they had not been informed of the station’s opening in March, but said it was not cause for concern as it ‘only deals with administrative practices and not of public safety”.

Il Foglio nevertheless reported that there was evidence that the station was engaged in “intelligence-gathering operations”.

Chinese police functions

There are over two million police officers in China. They are overseen by the Ministry of Public Security (MSP) – part of the State Council, China’s top administrative body – and various public security bureaus at the provincial and county levels. The MSP, together with the Ministry of State Security, which manages intelligence and the secret police, are two of the most powerful bodies in the country, responsible for both maintaining public order and public security and protecting the Communist Party in power.

This second implicit duty means that the Chinese police are highly politicized and are often tasked with policing dissent. The police have broad powers to detain and punish people who do not follow the rules, often imposing arbitrary fines or house arrest. They work hand in hand with the country’s prosecutors, which means oversight is often lacking; allegations of police abuse are common, particularly in rural areas.

In recent years, Chinese police have become much more professional, taking advantage of new surveillance and crime-solving technologies to crack even decades-old cold cases. The country’s law enforcement agencies have also stepped up international cooperation, including with Interpol, whose chairman from 2016 to 2018 was a former Chinese police officer. Beijing has been accused of abusing Interpol “red notice” warrants to pursue critics abroad, including members of the Uyghur ethnic minority.

With reports by Alexandra Li and Stephanie Chambers

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