China’s Secret Overseas Police Stations: The Allegations and Backlash

Two men were arrested in New York for allegedly setting up a secret police station for a Chinese provincial police agency to collect information on opponents of the ruling Communist Party. Such offices have been reported across North America, Europe and in other countries where Chinese communities include critics of the Communist Party who have family or business contacts in China. China denies that they are police stations, saying that they exist mainly to provide citizen services such as renewing driver’s licenses.

Latest in the New York Case

The two men who were arrested were acting under the direction and control of a Chinese government official, and are both U.S. citizens. U.S. law enforcement officials said the two did not register with the Justice Department as agents of a foreign government. And though the office did perform some services such as helping Chinese citizens renew their Chinese driver’s licenses, it also served a more “sinister” function, including helping the Chinese government locate a pro-democracy activist of Chinese descent living in California and threatening a fugitive whom police wanted to return to China.

Purpose of the Offices

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin denied the existence of overseas police stations and accused the U.S. of political manipulation in a statement on Tuesday. The Chinese government claims that these stations were set up to assist Chinese citizens living abroad with bureaucratic tasks such as renewing driver’s licenses.

However, Safeguard Defenders, a Spain-based NGO, alleges that Chinese police have used these centres to spy on dissidents overseas and to intimidate both citizens and non-citizens. Last year, Chinese officials stated that they had ‘persuaded’ 210,000 fraud suspects to return to China in 2021 as part of a crackdown on telephone scams, but the researchers claim that not all were charged with crimes.

Several countries, including Canada and Ireland, have requested that China shut down these centres or have launched their own investigations after the Safeguard Defenders report. In New York, prosecutors claimed that the station operated by the Fuzhou branch of the Ministry of Public Security had no authority to operate there and violated U.S. law and sovereignty.

Where Else Does China Operate Similar Offices

In February 2002, the Fujian province government announced the establishment of the first batch of 30 “Fuzhou Police Overseas Service Stations” on five continents. This province has historically sent many migrants to Southeast Asia, North America, Australia, and Europe.

Since then, scores of service offices have been reported worldwide, with Safeguard Defenders estimating more than 100 from Canada to New Zealand. Some are located in embassies, while others operate out of commercial centres frequented by the Chinese diaspora.

In 2016, Chinese police reached an agreement with the Italian government to conduct joint patrols with local police to help Chinese-speaking tourists. However, Italy ended the program last year after the Safeguard Defenders report.


The allegations that China is running secret overseas police stations have encountered backlash from several countries. Countries including Canada and Ireland asked China to close such stations or opened investigations of their own following the Safeguard Defenders report. However, China denies these allegations and claims that the offices exist mainly to provide citizen services such as renewing driver’s licenses. The recent arrests in New York demonstrate that the issue of China’s secret overseas police stations is an ongoing concern for many countries.

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