China operates 'police stations' abroad to monitor, repatriate nationals - report

Officially, these "service stations" exist to help Chinese residents or tourists in given countries. However, these stations may have an alternative role.

 Police officers raise Chinese and Hong Kong flags during a ceremony to mark the Chinese National Day in Hong Kong, China October 1, 2022. (photo credit: REUTERS/LAM YIK)
Police officers raise Chinese and Hong Kong flags during a ceremony to mark the Chinese National Day in Hong Kong, China October 1, 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS/LAM YIK)

China has allegedly set up over 100 quasi-police stations in countries across the world to spy on, harass and even repatriate Chinese nationals living abroad, according to CNN, citing the Madrid-based NGO Safeguard Defenders.

The organization had first revealed the existence of 54 stations back in September, and has now disclosed the existence of 48 furthers.

These add to the numerous accusations against Beijing that it attempts to illegally harass, silence or repatriate Chinese nationals or dissidents living abroad.

Chinese overseas police stations across the world

As Safeguard Defenders reported back in September, most of these stations are located in Europe, with at least nine in Spain.

Officially, these "service stations" exist to help Chinese residents or tourists in given countries. This is due to their role as a diaspora association meant to provide a positive and helpful network abroad. Indeed, the Chinese Foreign Ministry told CNN in November that they are used to help with tasks like renewing driver's licenses and other documentation.

 Private investigator (Illustrative). (credit: PEXELS) Private investigator (Illustrative). (credit: PEXELS)

However, these stations may have an alternative role: The persuasion of certain Chinese nationals to return to China.

Safeguard Defenders cited specific examples of these Chinese stations in Spain and Serbia with "persuading" Chinese nationals to return home.

China themselves has been open about persuading individuals to return, having said in the summer of 2022 that some "230,000" people labeled as "fugitives" had been "persuaded to return" between April 2021 and July 2022, according to Safeguard Defenders.

It is unknown how long these stations have been in operation, as while China claims they were made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Safeguard Defenders' report to CNN indicates that some of them were much older.

Prior accusations of China spying on, repatriating Chinese nationals abroad

This isn't the first time Beijing has been accused of utilizing resources overseas to monitor and repatriate Chinese nationals.

Early in November, a report in The New York Times highlighted how China made use of private investigators as part of a plot of "transnational repression" to silence dissidents.

This is something other countries, like Iran, also practice.

Even the US has done something similar, having arrested terrorist suspects in Italy years ago.

The US also has police stationed overseas, specifically the NYPD, though they don't actually make arrests.

But regardless, according to the evidence gathered by Safeguard Defenders and shared with CNN, the network of overseas police stations China has at their disposal is incredibly extensive.

How other countries will react to them remains to be seen.