Elaine Dunn | April 2023
According to the New York Post, China operates more than 100 secret police stations worldwide, seven of which are in the United States.
One of two such “stations” in New York City was shut down and two Chinese were arrested by the FBI on April 17.
Per Safeguard Defenders, the Spanish nonprofit civil rights investigative group, there are other stations scattered across the U.S. “We found at least four listed in the US by People’s Republic of China public security authorities, plus flagged an additional four overseas Chinese service centers in the US set up by the United Front Work Department networks responsible for manning the stations,” a spokeswoman for Safeguard Defenders told New York Post.” Other U.S. sites are purportedly in California (San Francisco and Los Angeles); Omaha, Nebraska; and Houston, Texas. The Minnesota location has not been determined. Out-of-state media reported it was in Minneapolis. But St. Paul Pioneer Press reported it was in a suburb of St. Paul.
In a 2020 series on the University of Minnesota, the Star Tribune reported the close connection the university had with China. UM staff and faculty made a total of more than 700 trips to China in the previous three years to “pursue research collaborations, nurture relationships with alumni and sign partnership deals with Chinese universities.” In 2019, the university stopped accepting gifts from Huawei and, the same year, it shut down its Confucius Institute, as did several other schools around the country. Confucius Institutes were “cultural programming centers” funded by the Chinese government, and rumoured to advance a “state agenda” in choice of curriculum, control of academic staff, amongst other issues.
The Chinese foreign ministry has disputed the existence of such entities, formerly known as “Overseas Chinese Service Centers.”
The two men arrested in New York City, both U.S. citizens, were charged with “conspiring to act as agents of the People’s Republic of China and destroying evidence of their communications with a Ministry of Public Security official.” They were enlisted to help locate Chinese dissidents and pressure them to return to mainland China or face violent threats. Neither of the men are registered as “agents of a foreign government.” The two also stand accused of “making violent threats against one political enemy of the Chinese Communist Party.”
The same Monday the NYC men were arrested, the Department of Justice also charged 42 other individuals (members of China’s Ministry of Public Security and the Cyberspace Administration of China, some living in China) with “transnational repression offenses targeting U.S. residents.”
Finding and shutting down these illegal police outposts are not an easy task as they are usually hidden within legitimate businesses or organizations. The shuttered site in NYC’s Chinatown was operating under the auspices of America ChangLe Association NY Inc., self-described as a “social gathering place for Fujianese people.” Its annual gala last year was attended by Mayor Eric Adams (who, by the way, failed to disclose it on his official agenda).
The location of this Fuzhou association is shared with the Fuzhou Police Overseas Chinese Affairs bureau.
Community members aware of the existence of such “police stations” do not divulge the shadowy entities to U.S. authorities for fear of reprisals from the Chinese government against them, their families here or in China. A Chinese embassy spokesperson from Wash., D.C., insisted the “police stations” were formed by overseas Chinese to provide other overseas Chinese “in need to access consultation and assistance.”
In 2022, a Chinese public security minister said 210,000 people suspected of “telecom fraud” had been “persuaded” to return to China in 2021. A spokesperson from Safeguard Defenders said the clandestine police stations are “only the tip of the iceberg in much wider transnational repression campaigns.”
According to U.K.’s Daily Mail, “U.S. and Western authorities have warned that China’s government has increasingly exerted pressure to silence its critics abroad, often targeting people of Chinese origin through covert operations in attempts to stifle dissent, or coerce them to return to China where they might face punishment.” Human rights groups have also complained of threats to academic freedom and monitoring of Chinese students on international university campuses.
Wonder if Beijing would allow any “overseas Chinese American social centers” to operate on Chinese soil? Finally …
And what does our local Star Tribune have to say about Chinese secret police amidst us? Crickets! This lack of coverage led Minnesota Representative Pat Garofalo to tweet “I would like to see Minnesota media provide some coverage on the allegation that China was operating a secret police station in a suburb of St Paul.”