Geopolitical Monitoring Report | November 18, 2022
China’s Overseas Police Stations Raise Significant Concerns Among the US Officials and Lawmakers.
Beijing has allegedly set up several “police service stations” in various cities around the world. A total of 54 overseas Chinese police stations have been found in 30 cities – including New York City, Toronto, and London – on five different continents.
China’s government has stated these “service stations” are simply offices where citizens could renew documents overseas and help fight transnational crime when the Dutch government launched an official inquiry into them earlier this year. However, reporting from the Spanish-based human rights organization Safeguard Defenders reveals that these stations have been used by Beijing to monitor and intimidate dissidents located abroad, pressure citizens abroad to return to China to face criminal charges, and that these stations may be part of propaganda campaigns targeting these countries in general.
These reports also come shortly after six Chinese nationals were arrested attempting to “repatriate” a citizen back to China. FBI Director Christopher Wray stated that his agency is “deeply concerned” about these reports in Congressional testimony on November 17 and members of the incoming Republican House majority sent letters to President Joe Biden requesting an investigation into these “police service stations” back in October, potentially foreshadowing formal Congressional hearings on the topic when the Republicans take the majority in January. An investigation into a Chinese “police service station” in Dublin, Ireland following the publication of Safeguard Defenders’ report led to that station being shut down by authorities.
While investigations by lawmakers and authorities may result in many of these stations being shut down, they are unlikely to end Beijing’s attempts to keep tabs on Chinese citizens in foreign countries, crackdown on dissidents abroad, and disseminate propaganda in the West.
These types of behaviors are only likely to increase as China is also seeking to expand diplomatic inroads with other Asia-Pacific nations specifically and to weaken the US’ influence globally. These types of operations are likely to increase in frequency during times of domestic unrest, such as signs of growing backlash to Beijing’s zero-COVID policies, or during major international incidents.
The presence of China’s “police service stations” in major cities around the world highlights the importance of ensuring that proper threat landscape assessments are conducted around company facilities, even in locations commonly believed to be “safe,” such as London or New York. While facilities of this nature are primarily used to monitor Chinese citizens abroad, there is a possibility that they could be used for espionage or other similar activities.
In addition, China is unlikely to be the only authoritarian country that is exploring the use of overseas police “stations” in this manner, meaning the threat may be much more broad than Congress or the FBI is aware of at this time. Companies and organizations with employees from authoritarian states should ensure that their human resources professionals are fully aware of these threats and have the ability to assist employees should they be targeted by these types of operations. Their insider threat teams should also ensure that they are aware of potential threats posed by employees that may be blackmailed to conduct corporate espionage or sabotaged by these types of overseas law enforcement offices.
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