Authorities in the United States have arrested two men on allegations they operated a “secret police station” in New York City on behalf of China.
China foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin on Tuesday disputed the US claims. China maintains a policy of non-interference in other countries and these alleged police stations do not exist, he said.
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The US Department of Justice announced the charges at a news conference on Monday, saying Liu Jianwang, 61, and Chen Jinping, 59, opened the covert police outpost in Manhattan’s Chinatown in early 2022.
Breon Peace, the US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said the men had engaged in “transnational repression targeting members of the Chinese diaspora community in New York City and elsewhere in the United States” at the behest of Beijing.
Both were charged with conspiring to act as an agent of China’s government without informing US authorities, as well as obstruction of justice.
The second charge relates to the men admitting that they deleted correspondences with an official from China’s Ministry of Public Security once they discovered they were being investigated, authorities said.
The secret police station “at the very least” provided Chinese citizens with basic Chinese government services, Peace said, adding that this in itself would run afoul of US law without prior approval.
However, he said the station “had a more sinister use”.
“On at least one occasion, an official with the Chinese national police directed one of the defendants, a US citizen who worked at the secret police station, to help locate a pro-democracy activist of Chinese descent living in California,” Peace said.
“In other words, the Chinese national police appear to have been using the station to track a US resident on US soil.”
Authorities said the police station closed in the fall of last year after the men learned they were being investigated.
If convicted, the accused both face up to five years in prison for conspiring to act as agents of the Chinese government and up to 20 years for the obstruction charge. They were set to appear in court in Brooklyn later on Monday.
Spanish human rights organisation Safeguard Defenders has said China has dozens of such covert police stations across the globe, including in the United Kingdom and the US.
In a report last September, the group said the stations were used to “harass, threaten, intimidate and force targets to return to China for persecution”.
In October, the Dutch foreign ministry said it was investigating reports the Chinese government had set up illegal police stations in the Netherlands to intimidate dissidents. Beijing called those reports “absolutely false”.
China has previously described the foreign outposts as service stations for Chinese people who are abroad and need help with bureaucratic tasks, such as renewing their Chinese drivers’ licences.
Last month, the Chinese government accused Canada of smearing its reputation after Canadian federal police announced that they were launching an investigation into alleged Chinese police stations in the country.
“China has been … strictly abiding by international law and respecting all countries’ judicial sovereignty,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said at the time.
Back in the US, Monday’s charges were among a raft of actions announced by the US Department of Justice against accused Chinese agents.
US federal authorities on Monday also announced two criminal complaints against 44 people, including 40 officers in China’s national police.
The accused “allegedly perpetrated transnational repression” by targeting US residents “whose political views and actions are disfavored by the [Chinese] government, such as advocating for democracy in [China]”, the US said.
In two separate schemes, the individuals “created and used fake social media accounts to harass and intimidate” Chinese dissidents residing abroad.
One group of officers allegedly worked for the “912 Special Project Working Group”, an elite task force charged with targeting Chinese dissidents around the world, authorities said.
That was largely done through creating thousands of fake online personas to target dissidents with propaganda and threats. Other officers targeted dissidents in online video conferences.
Department of Justice official David Newman said the alleged schemes amounted to a “multi-front campaign to extend the reach and impacts of its authoritarian system into the United States and elsewhere around the world”.