Netherlands probes 'illegal' Chinese police stations

The Dutch Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday that it was investigating reports that China had set up two illegal police stations in the Netherlands.

“We are now investigating as a ministry what is going on with the centers, and when we have more intel about it we can determine the appropriate action,” Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Maxime Hovenkamp said.

“What is correct is that the Chinese government never informed us about the centers via diplomatic channels so that makes them illegal to begin with,” Hovenkamp said.

What do we know about the Chinese police centers?

According to a report by Dutch broadcaster RTL Nieuws and investigative journalism platform Follow the Moneypublished on Tuesday, there were “indications” that the centers were used to “put pressure on dissident Chinese in the Netherlands.”

The centers offer citizen services such as renewal of Chinese drivers licenses or declaring changes in marital status, the report said.

A Chinese dissident who had received asylum in the Netherlands told RTL Nieuws and Follow the Money that he had been summoned by the Chinese police office in the Netherlands’ second-largest-city, Rotterdam. The Chinese citizen also reported having received threatening phone calls and text messages from unknown numbers, and said that bomb threats had been made under his name.

According to the report, the Rotterdam center was opened by the police force in the Lishui prefecture of China’s Zhejiang province, located immediately south of Shanghai, while the Amsterdam center is tied to the city of Fuzhou, which lies in Fujian province on the mainland Chinese side of the Taiwan Strait.

The two eastern coastal regions are major sources of Chinese emigration to Europe.

RTL Nieuws and Follow the Money said that they had received an e-mail from the Chinese embassy in Amsterdam saying that it did not know of the existence of the two overseas police centers.

Stations in ‘dozens of countries’

Spain-based human rights NGO Safeguard Defenders said in a September report that Beijing had overseas police “service stations” in “dozens of countries across five continents,” including 12 EU countries. The report alleges that one of these stations is in Frankfurt, Germany. It claimed that the operations “eschew official bilateral police” and “violate the international rule of law.”

The report claimed that Beijing has engaged in a campaign targeting overseas Chinese suspects of fraud and telecommunications fraud since 2018. Chinese authorities persuaded 230,000 nationals to return to face criminal proceedings between April 2021 and July 2022, Safeguard Defenders cited Vice-Minister of Public Security Du Hangwei as saying.

According to the report, authorities used methods such as “tracking down … the target’s family in China in order to pressure them through means of intimidation, harassment, detention or imprisonment” to “persuade” overseas suspects to return to China.

Since the end of November 2021, China has warned its citizens not to travel to seven countries in Southeast Asia, as well as Turkey and the UAE, which it deems are the source of serious telecommunications crimes.

Safeguard Defenders claims that Beijing authorities have used intimidation tactics to pressure Chinese citizens residing in these countries, regardless of whether they are suspected of telecommunications fraud or other crimes, to return.