China has contested claims it was operating unauthorized “police stations” on US soil, calling the sites volunteer-run, after the FBI director said he was “very concerned” about unauthorized stations that have been linked to Beijing’s influence operations.
Safeguard Defenders, a Europe-based human rights organization, published a report in September revealing the presence of dozens of Chinese police “service stations” in large cities around the world, including New York.
The FBI director, Christopher Wray, told a Senate hearing on Thursday that it was “outrageous” that the Chinese government would attempt to set up a police presence in the United States, saying it “violates sovereignty and circumvents standard judicial and law enforcement cooperation processes”.
China’s embassy in Washington acknowledged the existence of volunteer-run sites in the United States, but said they were not “police stations” or “police service centers”.
“They assist overseas Chinese nationals who need help in accessing the online service platform to get their driving licenses renewed and receive physical check-ups for that purpose,” an embassy spokesman, Liu Pengyu, said in an email to Reuters on Friday.
“They are not police personnel from China. The US side should stop the groundless hyping of this issue,” Liu said.
The embassy did not respond immediately to a Reuters request for a list of the sites. The FBI declined to comment beyond Wray’s remarks.
Earlier this month, China’s foreign ministry said the same about sites in Canada and the Netherlands after investigations were launched into their activities in the two countries. An investigation has also been launched in Germany, and members of the British parliament have called for investigations into similar sites.
Republicans in the US Congress, including Representative Jim Banks, have requested answers from the Biden administration about the operations of the sites.
Rights activists say the sites are an extension of Beijing’s efforts to pressure some Chinese nationals or their relatives abroad to return to China to face criminal charges, and have tied them to activities of China’s United Front Work Department, a Chinese Communist party body charged with spreading its influence and propaganda overseas.
Recently unsealed court documents in New York revealed new details on Chinese efforts to harass and surveil Chinese nationals abroad. In one case, a Chinese citizen living in Canada was pressured to return to China to face charges of embezzling nearly C$380,000 (US$280,000) in public funds.
Mark Clifford, president of the Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation, said such stations needed to be “stopped in their tracks”.
“By allowing the CCP to operate these types of institutions in their countries, international governments are complicit in Beijing’s actions,” Clifford said.