Dutch broadcasters RTL Nieuws and Follow the Money reported the presence of undercover Chinese police stations in Amsterdam and Rotterdam this week.

The offices mask themselves as Chinese service centers, which help the Chinese handle documents such as driver’s licenses and passport renewal. Behind closed doors, their other purpose is allegedly to track and harass Chinese dissidents.

According to RTL Nieuws, these Chinese police offices were established in the Netherlands in 2018. They, however, were not registered with the Chamber of Commerce. Wang Jingyu, a Chinese dissident who resides in the European country, claimed in the report that staff from the Rotterdam office had pressured him to return to China.

Dutch foreign affairs ministry spokesperson Maxime Hovenkamp said on October 26 that Beijing has never informed the Netherlands about the centers through diplomatic channels. 

She states, “That makes them illegal to begin with.”

She says the Dutch government is investigating the allegations and will take appropriate action after more information is clarified.

The Spain-based human rights group Safeguard Defenders was the first to sound alarmed about the dubious operation. In a September report, the group believes about 50 or so Chinese police stations are installed worldwide, the majority of which are in Europe.

The group pointed out that the offices would try to “persuade” a target to return to China and face punishment. The Chinese government’s mouthpiece Global Times reported a similar program in August. However, the publication said it merely aimed at telecom fraudsters.

Laura Harth, a campaign director at Safeguard Defenders, told CBC Canada that the campaign extends beyond those that are guilty of economic crimes.

She says, “We also know these kinds of campaigns have been used to target dissidents, critics of the regime, even those within the Communist Party.”

The ways targets are persuaded back to the mainland were also concerning. Harth says the operation would force cooperation by harassing and threatening the subject’s family members in China. Another approach is sending covert agents abroad to coerce the person.

She added, “[The] worst-case scenarios are those where they even lure or entrap people to a third country, from where they can have them returned — or even kidnappings.”

The Canadian government is also investigating the alleged Chinese police stations in their soil.

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