The United States is deeply concerned about the Chinese government setting up unauthorised “police stations” in US cities to possibly pursue influence operations, FBI director Christopher Wray has said.
“I’m very concerned about this. We are aware of the existence of these stations,” Wray told a US Senate homeland security and governmental affairs committee hearing, acknowledging the FBI’s investigative work on the issue but declining to give details.
“But to me, 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. It violates sovereignty and circumvents standard judicial and law enforcement cooperation processes.”
Wray, asked by Republican Senator Rick Scott if such stations violated US law, said the FBI was “looking into the legal parameters”.
Safeguard Defenders, a Europe-based human rights organisation, published a report in September revealing the presence of dozens of Chinese police “service stations” in major cities around the world, including New York.
The report said the stations were an extension of Beijing’s efforts to pressure some Chinese nationals or their relatives abroad to return to China to face criminal charges. It also linked them to the activities of China’s United Front Work Department, a Communist party body charged with spreading its influence and propaganda overseas.
Republicans in the US House of Representatives, including Greg Murphy and Mike Waltz, sent letters to the Justice Department in October asking if President Joe Biden’s administration was investigating such stations and arguing they could be used to intimidate US residents of Chinese origin.
China’s embassy in Washington did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
Earlier this month, China’s foreign ministry denied it had such stations in the Netherlands after an inquiry by Dutch authorities. China said they were offices to help Chinese citizens renew documents.
Wray said the United States had made a number of indictments involving the Chinese government harassing, stalking, surveilling, and blackmailing people in the United States who disagreed with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
“It’s a real problem and something that we’re talking with our foreign partners about, as well, because we’re not the only country where this has occurred,” he said.
The United States unsealed criminal charges in October against seven Chinese nationals accused of waging a surveillance and harassment campaign against a US resident and his family in an effort by the Chinese government to repatriate one of them back to China.
It was the latest case by the Justice Department targeting China’s effort to track down people overseas who Beijing calls criminal suspects, known as “Operation Fox Hunt”.