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Monitor claims China running secret police centers around globe, including Israel

Report by Spain’s Safeguard Defenders finds evidence for stations in 53 countries; agents allegedly watch Chinese expats, intimidating some into returning against their wishes

Israel Police at the Herzliya home of China's Ambassador to Israel De Wei, where he was found dead of what is believed to be natural causes on May 17, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Israel Police at the Herzliya home of China's Ambassador to Israel De Wei, where he was found dead of what is believed to be natural causes on May 17, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

China has established a secret police presence in Israel as well as dozens of other countries around the world as part of an effort to monitor its citizens abroad, and in some cases spirits them back to the country against their will, a watchdog has said.

The 35-page report by Madrid-based Safeguard Defenders, published Sunday, lists over 100 Chinese police stations allegedly set up in 53 countries.

The report claims that the stations exist in order to “harass, threaten, intimidate and force targets to return to China for persecution.”

Among the alleged Chinese police centers is one in Israel, which Safeguard Defenders said was mentioned in a 2020 news report on a meeting of the Nantong Police and Overseas Chinese Linkage Service Centers.

The story, carried by Ourjiangsu.com, notes that some attended the meeting by video linkup, including “Xu Weisong from the Israeli workstation.” The article includes a picture in which a screen clearly shows a person speaking in front of Israeli and Chinese flags.

It was not clear if the station was operating with the knowledge and permission of Israeli authorities. Sources in the Prime Minister’s Office told Walla news the matter was being looked into.

A screen capture of an article posted on a Chinese website of a meeting of representatives of Nantong police centers abroad, in which a person speaking in front of an Israeli flag can be seen. (screen capture: ourjiangsu.com)

Other previously unknown or unnoticed centers were reported in the US, Canada, United Arab Emirates, Russia, Serbia, Japan and elsewhere, many of them also tied to the Nantong Police. Nantong is a city of some 7 million in Jiangsu Province on China’s east coast.

Three other provincial police forces in China were also identified as having overseas stations.

According to Safeguard Defenders, which relies on open-source information, the clandestine stations are used to allow police to keep tabs on businesspeople and other citizens abroad without needing to conform to local judicial rules.

Chinese reports and comments from officials describe the stations as administrative centers meant to provide services to Chinese citizens overseas, though such activities would normally fall to the country’s diplomatic services.

It has described the Safeguard Defenders reports as “smears.”

Some countries, like Italy and South Africa, have pacts with China allowing police to operate locally, though the Spanish watchdog alleged that the forces often overstep the agreements in those cases.

According to Safeguard Defenders, Nantong’s overseas police network alone has aided in the capture and repatriation of at least 80 Chinese since starting operations in 2016, including at least one illegal “persuasion to return” operation in which undercover agents in Paris harassed a Chinese citizen into going back. That came after an earlier report by the NGO detailed two other similar cases of people being pushed into returning.

“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,” Safeguard Defenders campaign director Laura Harth told CNN.

A police officer wearing a face mask and goggles to protect against COVID-19, stands near a poster of a skier on the wall at a train station in Zhangjiakou in northern China’s Hebei Province, Nov. 26, 2021 (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File)

Investigations into the police centers have been opened in at least 12 countries, according to Safeguard Defenders.

Canada said last week that it had formally raised concerns about the outposts on its soil with Chinese officials.

“The government of Canada has formally insisted that the Chinese government take account for… any activities within Canada that fall outside of the Vienna Conventions, and account for those and ensure that they cease and desist,” Weldon Epp, a senior foreign ministry official, told a special parliamentary committee on Canada-China relations.

Under the convention, consular and administrative services are supposed to be conducted by embassies and consulates.

On Wednesday, the White House spoke out against Chinese attempts to spread influence throughout the Middle East, as Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Saudi Arabia.

“We are mindful of the influence that China is trying to grow around the world. The Middle East is certainly one of those regions where they want to deepen their level of influence,” White House spokesman John Kirby said.

“We believe that many of the things they’re trying to pursue and the manner in which they’re trying to pursue it are not conducive to preserving the international rules-based order.”

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