The revelation that more than 100 secret Chinese police stations have been operating globally raises issues about the muted responses of Australian security agencies. The existence of the police stations was revealed by the Spanish human rights group Safeguard Defenders in 2022. Although these revelations have been treated seriously elsewhere, there is little evidence of a similar response in Australia.
The ABC reported last October that an ‘official contact point’ had been established in Sydney by the Department of Public Security in the Chinese city of Wenzhou in 2018. The ABC noted it was unaware of what activities were undertaken here. The Federal Police had no comment when contacted by the ABC.
Safeguard Defenders campaign director Laura Harth told the ABC that the Sydney ‘contact point’ was similar to China’s overseas police offices in other countries. ‘Every country is using different names… it seems that they use an already existing framework of United Front Work organisations around the world to build this extra functionality,’ Ms Harth said.
‘For Australian people, I would say, especially for overseas Chinese people that have fled China — dissidents, ethnic and religious minorities — obviously these organisations can be used, potentially, to go after them or to go after their families.’
More recently, SBS reported the sighting in various Australian states of cars fitted with various decals giving the impression that they are Chinese government vehicles. The decals in Chinese characters read ‘Ministry of Public Security’ and ‘police’.
Victorian Police said they were aware of the images, but had not received any complaints. As it is an offence for a person to ‘hold him or herself out to be a police officer’ in Victoria or ‘give the impression’ of being a police officer in New South Wales, it is curious that the owners of these vehicles have not been contacted.
Compare the response to the revelations elsewhere.
Investigations in many countries into the extra-territorial activities of Chinese police followed the identification of an overseas station in Ireland’s capital, Dublin. Other stations were subsequently discovered in London, Glasgow and Belfast. Minister for Security Tom Tugendhat told Parliament two weeks ago that the UK has ordered China to close any remaining so-called ‘police stations’ on UK soil, calling the stations’ very existence ‘unacceptable.’
Dutch media also found evidence that the stations were being used to silence critics of the CCP across Europe.
After a number of stations were identified in Spain, reports flowed of their existence elsewhere on the continent. These included Greece, Italy, Croatia, Austria, France, Germany, Serbia, Sweden and Romania. In Italy alone, eleven stations were identified.
They have also been discovered in Canada, where three were found; South Africa, and Nigeria.
Investigations have been opened in some 14 countries.
When US Department of Justice and FBI officials arrested two Chinese-Americans for operating a police station in New York recently, the CCP Foreign Ministry reacted by accusing the Americans of making groundless accusations against China.
‘China firmly opposes the US’s slander and smears, its political manipulation, the false narrative of ‘transnational repression,’ and blatant prosecution of Chinese law enforcement and cyber administration officials,’ its foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said.
It would appear that the stations have been established by various provincial governments in China, particularly in the cities of Luizhou and Fuzhou.
‘What we see coming from China is increasing attempts to crack down on dissent everywhere in the world, to threaten people, harass people, make sure that they are fearful enough so that they remain silent or else face being returned to China against their will,’ Laura Harth told CNN.
‘It will start with phone calls. They might start to intimidate your relatives back in China, to threaten you, do everything really to coax the targets abroad to come back. If that doesn’t work, they will use covert agents abroad. They will send them from Beijing and use methods such as luring and entrapment.’
They have been used as part of China’s ‘persuade to return’ campaign globally. They have also been linked to the activities of China’s United Front Work Department, which Xi Jinping has described as an important overseas arm of the communist regime. Members of the Chinese diaspora in various countries have reported being harassed by CCP operatives.
A subsequent Safeguard Defenders Report claimed that one Chinese police network had hired 135 people for its 21 stations, contrary to CCP assertions that the posts were staffed by volunteers.
‘According to what we know, the “overseas police stations” are not police stations nor police service centres, but are places to help overseas Chinese nationals in need of access to the platform to have their driving licences renewed and receive physical examinations,’ Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said.
‘The relevant services are done in places provided by enthusiastic overseas Chinese groups. The volunteers are all local overseas Chinese and none of them are Chinese police. We wish the parties concerned not to make unwarranted exaggeration,’ he added.
However, an official from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Shanghai told the Spanish newspaper El Correo that ‘the bilateral treaties are very cumbersome and Europe is reluctant to extradite to China. I don’t see what is wrong with pressuring criminals to face justice…’
FBI Director Christopher Wray told the Congressional Homeland Security Committee last December:
“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 sovereignty and circumvents standard judicial and law enforcement cooperation processes.”
It was also reported in the media that a New York Democratic representative had met with one of the operatives arrested in the US on numerous occasions.
The application of extraterritoriality provisions by the Chinese regime dates back to the initial 2015 national security laws. According to the CCP, Chinese citizens, wherever in the world, are subject to its laws.
Given the widespread activities of United Front organisations in Australia, as documented by Clive Hamilton and Mareika Ohlberg in their books, Silent Invasion and Hidden Hand, Australian authorities should be investigating these issues. Even if the fake police cars are someone’s idea of a joke, they have the effect of engendering fear in the Chinese diaspora.
It is unlikely that Australia is not also the target of unofficial ‘police’ activities that have been shown to have occurred elsewhere. Members of the Chinese diaspora often confided to me that they were fearful of being spied upon. ASIO has said that counter-espionage has replaced counter-terrorism as its primary activity in recent years. It is time other police authorities took these issues seriously.
Originally published in the Spectator Australia. Photo by Hitesh Choudhary.