In the nondescript six-story office building on a busy street in New York’s Chinatown, several mundane businesses are listed on its lobby listing, including an engineering firm, an acupuncturist, and an accounting firm.
A more notable company does not appear on the third floor:
a Chinese outpost suspected of conducting law enforcement operations without diplomatic jurisdiction or approval, one of more than 100 such organizations worldwide that are unsettling diplomats and secret service agents.
FBI counterintelligence agents searched the building last fall as part of an ongoing criminal investigation with the US attorney’s office in Brooklyn, according to people familiar with the investigation.
The record represents an escalation in a global dispute over China’s efforts to do so monitor your diaspora beyond its borders.
Irish, Canadian and Dutch officials have called on China to end police operations in their countries.
The FBI raid is the earliest known example of material seizure by the authorities at one of the outposts.
Those who spoke about the FBI search did so on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.
On Wednesday, the Chinese embassy in Washington downplayed the outposts’ role, saying they are run by volunteers who help Chinese nationals perform routine tasks, such as renewing their driver’s licenses in their country.
But Chinese state media reports have been scrutinized by The New York Times they cite police and local Chinese officials by name who describe the operations very differently.
They emphasize the effectiveness of offices, often referred to as overseas police service centers.
Some reports describe Chinese outposts “gathering intelligence” and solving crimes overseas without cooperating with local officials.
Public statements do not clarify who exactly runs the offices.
Sometimes we talk about volunteers, other times about staff members or, at least in one case, the director.
Some of those online articles were recently deleted as Western officials and human rights groups drew attention to the police offices.
Western officials see the outposts as part of a broader campaign by Beijing to police overseas Chinese citizens, including dissidents.
The best known of these initiatives is Operation Fox Hunt, in which Chinese officials hunt down fugitives overseas and pressure them to return home.
At least four Chinese cities – Fuzhou, Qingtian, Nantong and Wenzhou – have set up dozens of police outposts, according to state media reports and published public statements in China.
They identify locations in Japan, Italy, France, Great Britain, Germany, Hungary, Czech Republic and other nations.
“It is extremely worrying from a human rights point of view.
In essence, we are allowing the Chinese diaspora to be controlled by the PRC instead of being subject to our national laws,” said Igor Merheim-Eyre, adviser to a Slovak MEP, using the acronym for the People’s Republic of China.
“Obviously, this has a huge impact, not only for our relations with the Chinese diaspora across Europe, but also has huge implications for the national sovereignty“.
The New York outpost, created by the city of Fuzhou, is based at the offices of a Chinese community organization, the America Changle Association NY, the state-run China Youth Daily reported, which published a document in which he listed several police outposts.
Changle is a district of Fuzhou city.
The article has since been deleted.
Other addresses of Chinese police outposts coincide with private business locations, including Chinese restaurants and trade associations.
The Chinese embassy in Washington described the spaces as “provided by local communities overseas Chinese who want to be helpful.”
America Changle is led by Lu Jianshun, known as Jimmy Lu, a donor to New York Mayor Eric Adams.
It is unclear whether he is the subject of an FBI investigation.
An Adams spokesman said the mayor does not know him.
Lu, asked during a brief phone conversation about FBI records, said he would call back, but did not.
Didn’t return phone and text messages seeking comment.
Spokesmen for the FBI and the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office declined to comment, but FBI Director Christopher Wray told lawmakers in November he was aware of and concerned about the outposts, which he called police stations
The Chinese embassy in Washington said the sites are not police stations.
“They are not Chinese policemen,” embassy spokesman Liu Pengyu said.
“There’s no need to make people nervous about this.”
It is not automatically inappropriate for police officers to work abroad.
The FBI, for example, sends agents overseas.
But they usually report to the foreign government and work in US embassies.
If they perform police functions, it is with the permission of the local authorities.
China has reached similar deals to conduct joint patrols in places like Italy, a popular destination for Chinese tourists.
This makes the unofficial operations They are even more curious.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has responded little to criticism, but police departments in China have flaunted their reach and intelligence-gathering capabilities, both in official statements and in state media.
A newspaper article associated with China’s Qingtian County Propaganda Department describes the case of a Chinese woman who claimed to have stolen money from her in Budapest. instead of
Calling local authorities, he sought help at the Chinese police outpost.
Police center officials used surveillance footage of a store to identify the thief, a Romanian, and recovered the money through “negotiation and education,” according to the article.
The state-run China News Service said overseas police stations in Qingtian had been collecting information on public opinion and feelings of overseas Chinese.
And an article published by a Communist Party organ in Jiangsu Province said that Nantong City’s Overseas Police Liaison Service Centers helped capture and persuade more than 80 criminal suspects to return home, China. , since February 2016.
The human rights group Defense of defenders said in a report late last year that police stations have carried out similar operations in Serbia, Spain and France.
It’s unclear what the FBI was investigating during its investigation, but it comes in the midst of a larger effort by the Justice Department to rein in Fox Hunt.
In October, prosecutors in Brooklyn – the same office that raided the one in New York – charged seven Chinese nationals to bully a US resident and his son, pressuring the man to return to China and face criminal charges.
“It’s outrageous that China thinks it can come to our shores, carry out illegal operations and bend people here in the United States to its will,” Wray said in 2020, after authorities charged eight other people with being part of it. Hunting.
The Chinese government has also monitored and pressured ethnic minorities overseas, including Uyghurs and Tibetans, as well as their families.
Human rights groups and government officials fear the outposts could be bases for such operations.
Officials and former law enforcement officials in New York City say the Chinatown outpost, like others elsewhere in the United States, dates back to the mid-2000s.
Police officials in at least one Chinese province have therefore sought to train their officers with the New York Police Department and other departments in cities that are home to large Chinese communities, law enforcement officials said.
Chinese officials wanted the New York Police Department to sign a memorandum of understanding to outline the training program and make it official.
But superiors and FBI officials in New York had serious doubts.
They feared that the training program could legitimize the presence of Chinese officers and make the NYPD an unwitting accomplice in a campaign of surveillance and harassment.
“The Chinese government wants to gain more influence and expand its transnational policing,” said Chen Yen-ting, a Taiwan-based researcher who worked on the Safeguard Defenders report.
“It is a far-reaching power to show your citizens inside China that their government is very strong.
We have the power to reach everyone, and even if you go out, you’re still under our control.”
Chinese cities appear to be taking steps to cover up their efforts.
Márton Tompos, a Hungarian lawmaker, said he visited a Chinese police station in Budapest last year.
“There were three signs saying Qingtian Police Overseas Service Station,” he said in an interview.
After talking about the visit, he said, the posters were retired.
Not everyone is convinced that outposts pose a big threat. Jeremy Daum, a scholar at Yale Law School’s Paul Tsai Center for China, said that while government harassment of Chinese citizens is a serious problem, for the most part these staff seem focused on organizing administrative tasks by providing links video between overseas Chinese and the police departments in China.
In theory, a person could perform the same video chat process, he said, using a smartphone.
“The prosecution and activity appear to be taking place in China,” Daum said, referring to examples cited in the Safeguard Defenders report.
Chinese dissidents in Europe see things differently.
“These are things you can do at the embassy,” said Lin Shengliang, a Chinese dissident in the Netherlands. He says people fear the police are watching them.
“I’m very worried about them,” he said over the phone.
“There are no channels to report this, and we can’t do anything about it.”
c.2023 The New York Times Society
Mark Jones is a world traveler and journalist for News Rebeat. With a curious mind and a love of adventure, Mark brings a unique perspective to the latest global events and provides in-depth and thought-provoking coverage of the world at large.