China establishes overseas police presence in Australia and around the world

Beijing has set up overseas police outreach operations in more than 80 cities around the world, including one in Australia, as part of a global security campaign under the Belt and Road (BRI) of President Xi Jinping.

A report by international human rights group Safeguard Defenders released earlier this month found that Chinese police have set up overseas police stations in countries including the United States, Japan, Spain and France.

Police stations have sometimes been referred to as “110 Overseas” after China’s emergency number.

The stations are affiliated with and operated by local or municipal governments in China that have a large number of Chinese nationals living overseas.

For example, the city of Fuzhou in the southeast of the country, which has around 3 million people living abroad, has overseas police stations in Prato, Italy, and Barcelona. , in Spain.

Chinese authorities said the stations, sometimes called “contact points”, provide services to citizens, such as renewing national ID cards, passports and driver’s licenses, using facial recognition technology.

But human rights groups fear police offices abroad could also be used to target dissidents abroad or force people to return to China where they could face potentially trial. politicized.

Beijing says the extra police presence is aimed at helping citizens abroad and cracking down on crime.(WeChat: Fuzhou Police)

“Point of Contact” in Sydney

Following the publication of the report, the ABC discovered that an official “point of contact” had been established in Sydney by the Public Security Department of the Chinese city of Wenzhou in 2018.

Chinese authorities did not respond to questions about activities taking place at the Australian point of contact.

The ABC is not aware of any evidence that it has been used for any of the activities suggested by Safeguard Defenders on other overseas sites.

The Sydney operation was trumpeted at an official establishment ceremony in 2019 in Wenzhou, but flew under the radar of the Australian and international press.

At the ceremony, Wenzhou Police Chief Luo Jie said overseas contact points connected to his city were a “positive response” to Xi’s BRI framework and that they were convenient for the Wenzhou diaspora. Australia does not have a BRI agreement with China.

The Wenzhou Police WeChat Official Account refers people looking for the Sydney point of contact to the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Wenzhou.

A spokesman for the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Wenzhou told the ABC that the police contact point had closed and had no connection to the group.

“It hasn’t worked for a long time,” they said. “The organization has never had such a service before.”

The spokesperson added that they could not comment on “political” and “sensitive” topics.

But when the ABC contacted police in Wenzhou China about the Sydney contact point, they said it should still be open and referred the ABC to the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Wenzhou .

The ABC has contacted the Australian Federal Police (AFP) to inquire about the legitimacy of the Chinese police operation in Australia.

“AFP has no comment,” a spokesperson told ABC News.

The Chinese Embassy in Canberra and the Consulate General in Sydney did not respond to requests from the ABC for comment on the nature of the contact point and its activities here.

Safeguard Defenders campaign manager Laura Harth told the ABC that the Sydney “point of contact” was similar to Chinese overseas police offices in other countries.

“Each country uses different names… it appears they are using an already existing framework of United Front Work organizations around the world to create this additional functionality,” Ms Harth said.

“For Australians, I would say, especially overseas Chinese who have fled China – dissidents, ethnic and religious minorities – obviously these organizations can be used, potentially, to prosecute them or their families.”

Tens of thousands of “persuaded to return”

The report said the overseas offices were developed alongside a “massive” international campaign which Beijing said saw more than 230,000 Chinese nationals “persuaded to return” to face criminal prosecution in China.

“Evidence that is rapidly emerging points to extensive online campaigns and the use of overseas police stations used in these operations on five continents,” the report said.

The report said the operation used threats against family and loved ones, including depriving the suspects’ children of the right to education in China, in a “guilty by association” approach.

For example, in February, the city government of Laiyang in the eastern province of Shandong issued a notice through its overseas police station in Myanmar, demanding that Chinese nationals illegally staying in the Asian nation Southeast return home, and warning that there will be consequences for their loved ones if they fail to do so.

“If family members refused to cooperate with authorities in persuading suspects to return, they would have their policy benefits and grants suspended or terminated,” Safeguard Defenders’ report said.

The first offices were created in six countries in 2016, linked to the public security department of the eastern city of Nantong.

They reportedly solved more than 120 criminal cases involving Chinese nationals and arrested at least 80 people in Myanmar, Cambodia and Zambia.

Chinese state media say Operation 110 Overseas provides protection for millions of Chinese citizens living overseas.

The operation and accompanying police stations aim to apprehend Chinese citizens and prevent them from committing crimes in foreign countries, according to state media, such as fraud, telecommunications scams or major transnational crimes.

“The ‘smart police’ visualization platform…will carry out active search and targeting, early detection and deployment,” state-run media Nantong Daily said, referring to facial recognition.

“It is an important bridge and link to serve foreign businesses and the majority of overseas Chinese business owners and compatriots…maintaining Beijing’s security interests overseas.”

Call for transparency to avoid “secret investigations”

Ms Harth said the Sydney-based point of contact and foreign police stations abroad could be “illegal” if they fail to comply with local laws.

Security experts also fear that similar police stations could violate international law and potentially infringe sovereignty.

Chinese human rights lawyer Sam Huang told the ABC that the operation could help some Chinese citizens facing challenges abroad, but that it is “too early to say. that would have positive effects”.

“It is a parallel police system in addition to bilateral police cooperation, and it may disrupt the investigation or the police process in those countries,” Huang said.

“It can silence human rights activists living abroad and persecute them using illegal methods.”

The shadows of people standing in front of a CCP flag
The Chinese embassy did not respond to questions about the need for a police “point of contact” in Australia.(Reuters: Florence Lo)

Mr Huang said the lack of clarity and transparency in the scope of operations could fuel fears that “the Chinese diaspora in these countries could be subject to covert surveillance or investigation”.

“Countries where these centers are located should regulate the range of Chinese police operations and regulate them closely.”

Contact points and police stations abroad have been set up despite existing agreements and frameworks to combat international crime.

AFP has signed several agreements with China’s Ministry of Public Security – a state police agency – to target transnational crime and maintain cooperation in various fields.

Additional reporting by Qiao Wu

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