Portugal joins global probe into illegal Chinese police stations

U.K., Spain and Netherlands among countries investigating claims the stations are used to force Chinese to go home.
By Yitong Wu and Chingman for RFA Cantonese, Liu Fei for RFA Mandarin and RFA Staff
2022.10.28
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Portugal joins global probe into illegal Chinese police stations Human Rights group Safeguard Defenders alleged that Chinese police run 54 “service stations” in 30 countries across five continents.
Safeguard Defenders

UPDATED AT 01:53 A.M. ON 10-28-2022

Portugal became the latest nation to open a probe into allegations that China has been running “illegal police stations” in the country just as Ireland ordered Beijing to shut down its "overseas Chinese police service center" in Dublin.

Portuguese police launched an investigation into China's alleged overseas police "service stations", the Attorney General’s Office confirmed to the Expresso newspaper on Thursday.

The authorities are paying “special attention” to the Chinese Embassy in Lisbon after Portuguese lawmakers raised concerns about a report by human rights group Safeguard Defenders in September that Chinese authorities operate 54 “police stations” overseas, including three in Portugal.

A growing number of governments including Canada, the United Kingdom, Spain and the Netherlands are investigating reports about Chinese police offices overseas that are accused of coercing emigrants to return home to China to face criminal charges or silencing dissent abroad.

Until now, no cases of immigrants living in Portugal having been forced to travel to China are yet known, the Expresso quoted a police source as saying.

china station.jpeg
The circled sign by the doorway on a business on Capel Street in Dublin, Ireland, reads Fuzhou Police Overseas Service Station, Dublin, Ireland. CREDIT: Google Street View

Also on Thursday, Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs ordered the so-called Fuzhou Police Service Overseas Station in Dublin city center to close, Irish media reported.

The office opened earlier this year and Chinese authorities said it offered services to Chinese citizens in Ireland such as driving license renewals.

However, Ireland’s Foreign Ministry said Chinese officials have never sought permission to set up the station in Dublin.

"The Department noted that actions of all foreign states on Irish territory must be in compliance with international law and domestic law requirements," the Irish Times quoted a foreign ministry spokesman as saying.

"On this basis, the Department informed the Embassy that the office on Capel Street should close and cease operations.”

The Chinese Embassy confirmed that the office has now ceased operations.

China denies reports

The Irish statement came after the Dutch government said it would probe service centers in the Netherlands in response to two reports run by broadcaster RTL Nieuws earlier this week.

"Appropriate action will be taken. We take this very seriously," a Dutch foreign ministry spokesperson told the station.

In an investigation that appeared to confirm earlier allegations by Safeguard Defenders, the RTL reports quoted Dutch lawmakers as calling for the immediate closure of the offices.

Free People's Party MP Ruben Brekelmans said the offices were "another example of the Chinese government's infiltration of the Netherlands."

“The Chinese repression model must not be allowed to infiltrate the Netherlands," Brekelmans said via his Twitter account.

In Canada, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Commissioner Brenda Lucki described the Chinese overseas service centers in January as "a growing problem," with a probe already under way.

In the U.K., the China Research Group of Conservative MPs called for an investigation into “concerning” reports about Chinese police stations. Safeguard Defenders alleged there are three such stations in the U.K. including two in London and one in Glasgow.

Safeguard Defenders reported in September that China is carrying out "illegal, transnational policing operations" across five continents, targeting overseas critics of the Chinese Communist Party for harassment, threats against their families back home and "persuasion" techniques to get them to go back to China.

The Chinese foreign ministry denied Chinese police are operating out of offices in Europe. Spokeswoman Mao Ning told a regular news briefing in Beijing on Thursday that Chinese public security authorities “strictly observe international law and fully respect the judicial sovereignty of other countries.”

"The allegation is simply untrue," another spokesman, Wang Wenbin, said on Wednesday.

He added that the purpose of the service centers is to help overseas Chinese nationals, who have not been able to return home because of the COVID-19 pandemic, “to have their driving licenses renewed and receive physical examinations.”

Canadian journalist Jonathan Manthorpe said there are at least three service centers in Toronto, describing China's claims about them as "absolute nonsense," and adding that they enable Chinese law enforcement agencies to operate overseas.

This story from Oct. 27 has been updated throughout to add further details.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie

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