Madrid-based human rights group says China has more secret ‘police stations’ abroad than reported

China is operating more than 100 unofficial police stations across the globe, to clamp down on Chinese dissidents living in exile and repatriate them, revealed a bombshell investigation by Spain-based NGO.

In the findings first shared with CNN, human rights organisation Safeguard Defenders said that China has established more than 100 stations worldwide, particularly in Europe and Africa.

The group said that it found evidence of Beijing running 48 more such stations in addition to the 54 “police service centres” that it reported in September this year, thereby “bringing the total to 102” with an in-country presence in 53 nations.

Of the newly identified stations, Italy hosts the highest of 11 stations, while Croatia, Serbia and Romania were used as the other sites, found the NGO in their latest investigation, called Patrol and Persuade,

The group found at least one instance of a Chinese national being coerced into returning back to the country by the operatives working at a Chinese overseas station in a Paris suburb.

There were at least 80 cases where the Nantong overseas police system assisted in the capture or persuasion to return operation. “This is in addition to already exposed operations in Spain and Serbia,” the NGO reported.

According to the Safeguard Defenders, even though the stations were not directly run by Beijing, “some statements and policies are starting to show a clearer guidance from the central government in encouraging their establishment and policies”.

China has denied running undeclared police stations overseas as it called the allegations an attempt to “smear” the country’s reputation. “We hope that relevant parties stop hyping it up to create tension,” China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs was quoted as saying by CNN. “Using this as a pretext to smear China is unacceptable.”

The country claimed that these hubs were created to help Chinese expatriates to help with tasks like renewing driver’s license, with some of the offices set up in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, which had left several citizens stranded.

The investigation by the NGO, however, contradicted the statements by the Chinese authorities, as they found that the vast majority of documented stations have been set up in 2016 by two newly discovered local Chinese jurisdictions of Nantong and Wenzhou.

The report claimed that undeclared consular activities by China outside the official diplomatic missions are illegal in most cases unless the host nations give explicit consent to carry out these activities.

A number of nations have responded sharply to the report, with Austria’s interior ministry telling the APA news agency that it will not tolerate “illegal activities by foreign intelligence service or police authorities”.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police also said it took the “threats to the security of individuals living in Canada very seriously and is aware that foreign states may seek to intimidate or harm communities or individuals within Canada”.

The investigation by the NGO has forced at least 13 nations across the world to start a probe in these police stations, with FBI director Christopher Wray expressing his concern to the Homeland Security Committee last month about the possible Chinese police stations in the US.

“It is outrageous to think that the Chinese police would attempt to set up shop, you know, in New York, let’s say, without proper coordination. It violates the sovereignty and circumvents standard judicial and law enforcement cooperation processes,” he said.