Beijing is expanding its police-led overseas service stations worldwide. These service centers look like they help Chinese people living abroad with many things, but they work closely with the mainland Chinese police. These stations are dubbed informally as “Fox Hunting,” They aim to find Chinese people who have crossed borders and catch them.

Human rights NGO Safeguard Defenders published a study last month about this issue. According to the report, there are about 54 Chinese police and overseas Chinese sites with different names in 30 countries. Most of which are in Europe.

Secret and evasive

The report is titled “110 Overseas—Chinese Transnational Policing Gone Wild.” According to it, most of China’s foreign police stations are low-key and secretive. They are usually hidden away in Chinese restaurants, convenience stores, or chambers of commerce.

Safeguard Defenders director Peter Dahlin told the Telegraph:

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

Li Yuanhua is a historian who lives in Macau, China. He said, “It is so-called low-key and secretive because it breaks local laws. If he officially puts this on the table, he will be punished for breaking local laws, so the CCP will talk about it in China. Building something overseas, and locally, it doesn’t have a sign or a formal office.”

As an example, think about the United Kingdom. In Glasgow, a Chinese police station is a Chinese restaurant in disguise, and in London, it’s a real estate company.

The Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail also looked at three “Chinese police and overseas Chinese sites” in the area. These sites included a private home, a shopping center full of shops and restaurants owned by Chinese people, and a business park.

Flee overseas, but still no true freedom

These so-called “Overseas Service Stations for Police and Overseas Chinese Affairs” are supposed to help overseas Chinese with official paperwork. However, Safeguard Defenders pointed out that they are all connected to China’s United Front Work Department. And that one of their goals is to monitor Chinese expatriates.

Historian Li Yuanhua said: “No matter where you go, the CCP makes you feel as if you can’t escape its clutches. Wherever you go, they can monitor you. Your family would be threatened at home. If you are abroad, it can directly find your guarantor through these police and overseas Chinese sites. Then they would use threats, intimidation, or other means to send you back to China.”

According to the report, a “Chinese Police Overseas Service Station” officer tracked down a man in Madrid, Spain. They forced him to participate in “a video call with public security officers and a prosecutor.”

Also, the service station scares ex-pats by “threatening to cut off their home’s electricity” and “preventing family members [in China] from going to public schools.”

In a recent interview with Fuji TV in Japan, a Chinese person said, “No Chinese can refuse the request of the Party and the government. Because you still have family in China!”

Chinese officials say that between April last year and this July, 230,000 Chinese people were “persuaded to return” from abroad to face charges.

Skynet is among many of Beijing’s surveillance programs to routinely track, harass, threaten, and repatriate Chinese fleeing the country. 

In January, a study by Conservation Defenders found that formal legal procedures like extradition had nothing to do with Skynet’s supposed success rate. 

Instead, these “involuntary returns” make up most of Skynet’s records. For example, in 2018, extradition—a legal way to send someone back home—only made up 1% of supposedly successful pursuits, while involuntary returns made up around 64%.

According to the Safeguard Defenders study, Beijing’s actions abroad put at risk many countries’ national sovereignty and fundamental human rights. Governments should conduct thorough investigations, punish the actions of China, and protect people in danger.

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