Illegal police active worldwide: China hunts down dissidents in Germany

Illegal police active worldwide
China hunts down dissidents in Germany

By Marcel Grzanna

Chinese authorities operate illegal police stations around the world. The primary aim is to persuade criminals to return home. But critics of the regime are also being put under massive pressure by the security forces – including in Germany, where the police have so far been powerless to look on.

Yang Weidong has had plenty to do with the Chinese police in the past. He became known as a documentary filmmaker through a series of hundreds of interviews that critically examined China’s political and social development. The project increasingly drew him into the focus of the security authorities.

This was nothing new to him. Even after his mother, the doctor Xue Yinxian, opened up about doping practices in Chinese sports, the family had to get used to regular visits from the police. For example in 2007, a year before the Beijing Olympics. Officials warned his mother not to talk about doping in China. A scuffle ensued, during which the father fell on his head and died three months later.

“They want to scare us”

Mother, son and his wife have been living in Germany for several years. In October 2017 they received political asylum. The Chinese security forces still have Yang Weidong breathing down their necks. Not directly, but through employees of embassies or consulates or through Chinese students abroad. Yang recalls that he and his wife were once closely hounded by young Chinese who told them they knew where he lived.

“The Chinese police are behind such warnings,” Yang suspects in an interview with “They want to scare us and wear us down so that we give in. They use students as tools for this,” he says. Yang has informed the German police three times in the past twelve months. His mother, his wife and he feel threatened. But the local authorities are powerless as long as no crime is committed, was the answer. After all, the officials promised to drive more patrols in the vicinity of the place of residence.

Apparently, the Chinese authorities know about every step of the regime critic in Germany, including the reports to the police. In July, Yang Weidong’s brother called from east China’s Shandong Province and advised him to take the mother back home instead of cooperating with the German authorities. Yang suspects his brother was forced to make the call.

Police stations in more than 30 states

According to a report by the human rights organization Safeguard Defenders, the fact that the security forces in the People’s Republic are informed is also the result of illegal Chinese police operations abroad. The organization has so far identified 54 so-called Overseas Police Stations (ÜPS) in the People’s Republic in 30 states. In Spain alone, where the organization is based, she identified nine such locations. In Germany, an illegal ÜPS is based in Frankfurt. On Wednesday, Dutch media revealed details about two stations in Holland. The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced a detailed investigation.

The Safeguard Defenders report that the informal police stations were initially set up to protect overseas Chinese from being scammed by their compatriots. In the Chinese communities abroad, cases of fraud by telephone or via the Internet in particular have increased massively. The authorities wanted to persuade suspects to return to China. In the period from April 2021 to July 2022 alone, it was possible to guide around 230,000 Chinese from abroad back to the People’s Republic. The Ministry of Public Security, which oversees the police force, publicly announced in April this year that the operation was a complete success.

Just no deviants abroad

The ministry uses the support not only of students or staff of the embassy, ​​but also of organizations of the so-called united front. This is almost as old as the party itself and is primarily responsible for marginalizing political dissent at home, but increasingly also abroad. Countless Chinese foreign associations in Germany and almost every other country in the world ensure that Chinese abroad do not swerve, but always represent the party line. They are also used specifically to collect information from foreign partners and to disseminate it themselves.

Beijing seems to feel right. “I don’t see what’s wrong with putting pressure on criminals to turn themselves into justice,” an official at China’s foreign ministry told the Spanish daily El Correo. Europe is very hesitant to extradite criminals to China. Despite the lack of agreements, the People’s Republic of China seems to find justification enough to break international law.

The authorities, on the other hand, do not publicly communicate the fact that it is by no means only fraudsters who are tracked down abroad, but also political dissidents such as Yang Weidong. The Dutch media also report on critics of the regime who have been put under pressure by the illegal police stations. According to Safeguard Defenders, the methods used clearly violate international human rights law and the territorial sovereignty of individual countries.

Berlin insists on rules – so what?

The Ministry of the Interior in Berlin makes it clear that there is no bilateral agreement between Germany and China on the operation of the ÜPS. “The Federal Government does not tolerate the exercise of foreign state authority and accordingly Chinese authorities do not have any executive powers on the territory of the Federal Republic of Germany. The Federal Government is working to ensure that the Chinese diplomatic missions in their activities in Germany comply with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations,” it says.

How exactly this is supposed to succeed remains questionable. As China gains economic importance, it increasingly takes the right to break international agreements. The Chinese Consul General in Manchester recently made this self-image clear. After violently attacking a pro-democracy Hong Kong protester, the latter told British media that it is the duty of every diplomat to act as he does when his country or its leader is offended.

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