U.S. authorities are investigating claims that Chinese police are operating clandestine foreign stations in the United States, FBI director Christopher Wray told a Senate hearing on Thursday.
Safeguard Defenders, a watchdog that tracks disappearances of critics of the Chinese Communist Party, issued a report in September detailing claims that Chinese police are operating a program of foreign stations to harass regime critics abroad.
Beijing claims the so-called overseas service stations were set up to provide essential services to citizens. But Safeguard Defenders said they in fact are used to coerce emigrants to return home to face criminal charges in China, in an effort to silence dissent of the regime abroad.
Speaking at a U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing, Wray said the FBI was investigating the claims, which include allegations of a station in New York City.
“I’m very concerned about this. We are aware of the existence of these stations,” Wray said, without offering further details.
“It is outrageous to think that the Chinese police would attempt to set up shop, you know, in New York, let’s say, without proper coordination,” he said. “It violates sovereignty and circumvents standard judicial and law enforcement cooperation processes.”
Safeguard Defenders, which is based in Madrid, claimed in its report in September that China was running “illegal, transnational policing operations” across five continents via 54 so-called police service stations in 30 countries, including Europe and Australia.
The Dutch and Irish governments have already ordered China to shut down the operations, while the stations are also being investigated by the governments of the Czech Republic, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
Jing-jie Chen, one of the authors of the recent report by Safeguard Defenders, has called for governments around the world to investigate the presence of the stations as just one part of Beijing’s efforts to repress dissent in foreign countries.
“It enables the Chinese state to reach out and silence dissidents, to spread fear and distrust among Chinese communities, and dissidents – despite having fled China – will not be able to continue their activism,” Jing-jie Chen told Radio Free Asia.
“Foreign governments should take this issue seriously as this is not only protecting Chinese citizens but also defending democracy.”