The Daily Telegraph

China’s covert UK ‘police stations’ seek to control citizens abroad

- By Simina Mistreanu, Helen Chandler-wilde and Berny Torre

‘This is all taking place under the radar, outside the view of, in this case, the British’

‘The Chinese government can avoid the scrutiny of its human rights record by operating undercover’

CHINA has opened unofficial “police stations” in London as part of a growing network of Communist Party-linked offices accused of hunting down and blackmaili­ng citizens to force them to return home.

Chinese authoritie­s have establishe­d 54 “overseas police service centres” around the world in the past few years, according to a report, as Beijing seeks to expand its powers abroad.

The “110 overseas service stations”, named after the national police emergency phone number, were establishe­d by public security bureaus in China, initially as part of an effort to target telecoms fraud abroad. But the growth of the informal police stations comes as China is accused of harassing political dissidents on foreign soil, including in the UK. There is no evidence that the “police stations” have been used for this purpose.

They are operated by community associatio­ns, according to a report from Safeguard Defenders, a non-profit human rights organisati­on.

The centres are run from innocuous locations – such as Chinese restaurant­s or convenienc­e stores, or the offices of business associatio­ns.

One of the two police “service” stations in London is registered as an estate agency. Another one, based in Glasgow, is a Chinese restaurant.

The Daily Telegraph visited the estate agency in north London, which denied any links. However, they said the office was also used by a legal firm. Its website says it deals predominan­tly with Chinese immigratio­n issues.

Another food delivery office in Croydon, said to be part of the network, also denied links when visited by a reporter.

The stations are ostensibly meant to help Chinese people abroad with paperwork such as extending driving licences. But state media reports show that some have been involved in collaborat­ing with Chinese police to carry out operations abroad. “In general, these stations have both a good and a bad purpose,” Peter Dahlin, director of Safeguard Defenders, said.

“They are there to help, say, Chinese tourists who get into trouble. They can act as a liaison with local police. The problem is they are not properly registered as [agents for the police] in these different countries.

“This is all taking place under the radar, outside the view of, in this case, the British people and the British police, targeting the Chinese diaspora.”

Thirty-six stations exist in 16 European countries, including France, Spain, Britain and Germany. Fewer “service” police stations have been opened in the Americas, Asia and Africa.

Some have been found to help Chinese police conduct so-called “persuasion sessions” remotely, Safeguard Defenders said. In one example, documented by Chinese media, a police “service” station in Madrid tracked down a man wanted in China for environmen­tal pollution and had him sit down for a video call with public security agents and a prosecutor.

A family member of the man was asked to sit next to the Chinese authoritie­s during the call – a move that can be interprete­d as a thinly veiled threat.

Other examples of possible blackmail are threatenin­g to cut electricit­y to the homes of families back home, or restrictin­g access to public schools for relatives.

By using the stations, the Chinese government “manages to avoid the scrutiny of its human rights record”.

The Home Office said any requests for repatriati­on of suspected foreign criminals must be made in accordance with UK and internatio­nal law. Illegal repatriati­on efforts will not be tolerated, it added.

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