Police in New York have arrested two men for allegedly setting up a secret police station for a Chinese police agency. The goal was reportedly to collect information on opponents of the ruling Communist Party.
Such offices have been reported across North America, Europe and in other countries with critics of the Communist Party who have family or business contacts in China.
China denies that they are police stations. It says they exist mainly to provide citizen services such as providing driver's licenses.
Xi Jinping is the Communist Party leader and China’s head of state. His campaign against corruption has targeted criticism of his leadership both in China and overseas.
The arrests Monday in New York came alongside charges against 34 officers with China’s national police force in China. They are accused of using social media to target party critics in the United States, officials said Monday.
Here is a look at the accusations that China is running secret overseas police stations.
What is the latest in the New York case?
The two men who were arrested were acting under the direction and control of a Chinese government official, the Justice Department said in a statement Monday.
The men were identified as “Harry” Lu Jianwang, 61, and Chen Jinping, 59, both U.S. citizens from New York City. The arrests are the first of their kind anywhere in the world.
The two did not register with the Justice Department as agents of a foreign government, U.S. law enforcement officials said.
U.S. officials said the office did perform some services like helping Chinese citizens renew their Chinese driver’s licenses. But they said it also helped the Chinese government find a pro-democracy activist of Chinese descent living in California. The office also threatened a fugitive who police who wanted to return to China, officials said.
What is the purpose of the offices?
Wang Wenbin is China’s foreign ministry spokesperson. He said there was “no such thing as an overseas police station.” He accused the U.S. of “political manipulation.” The foreign ministry said it operates the centers to help citizens with things like renewing drivers’ licenses.
Safeguard Defenders is a Spain-based nongovernment group. In a report published last year, the group accused Chinese police of using such centers to spy on critics overseas and to bother or threaten both citizens and non-citizens.
U.S. law enforcement officials said the station in New York was operated by the Fuzhou office of China’s Ministry of Public Security. They wrote that it had no power to operate in New York and that it violated U.S. law and national sovereignty.
How will the investigation affect U.S.-China relations?
China-U.S. political relations are at a historic low. In February, the U.S. canceled a visit by Secretary of State Antony Blinken because of a Chinese spy balloon that was discovered over the United States.
The accusations of illegal Chinese police stations will likely bring more bad feelings towards China and Chinese businesses, such as Huawei and TikTok.
It is not clear if China will seek the release of the two men arrested in the U.S. Both men are U.S. citizens. China has in the past been accused of so-called hostage diplomacy. It previously imprisoned two Canadian citizens over the arrest of a top executive of Chinese electronics giant Huawei.
Where does China operate similar offices?
In a February 2002 news release, the government of Fujian province said it had created the first 30 “Fuzhou Police Overseas Service Stations” on five continents.
Safeguard Defenders estimates that there are now more than 100 such offices around the world, from Canada to New Zealand. Some are based in embassies, while others have operated out of business centers that are popular among people of Chinese descent.
I’m Dan Novak.
Dan Novak adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on reporting by The Associated Press.
Words in This Story
alleged — adj. accused of having done something wrong or illegal but not yet proven guilty
renew — v. to cause to continue to be effective or valid for an additional period of time
descent — n. the people in your family who lived before you were born
fugitive — n. a person who is running away to avoid being captured
manipulate — v. to deal with or control (someone or something) in a clever and usually unfair or selfish way