Chinese Overseas Police
a Tool for Influence Operations
Recent news reports about ‘secret’ overseas Chinese police stations highlight the growing role of police in national security strategy. According to these reports, China has established a networks of informal, quasi-police stations in Europe and the Americas. In part these outposts serve as mechanisms for extending the reach of China’s ‘secret’ police. According to the reports, approximately 50 informal police outposts, ostensibly for liaison and outreach are now in operation.
Global Policing Networks: ‘Overseas 110’
These police posts, leverage the reach of China’s diaspora community. While centrally co-ordinated by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), they rely upon police from Chinese cities and provinces such as the Fuzhou city police, which has established 30 outposts in 21 countries. Known as ‘Overseas 100’ after the Chinese emergency contact number, these nodes reinforce China’s influence operations abroad. The initiative reportedly started as a pilot project in 2019 by the Qingtian county police in Zhejiang province to assist Chinese overseas nationals with administrative and consular tasks. These overseas ‘police service centers’ are tools of persuasion and coercion with officials able to exert influence on the families of expatriates at home. Some of this pressure has reportedly resulted in the forced repatriation of up to 230,000 overseas Chinese. These police service centers operated by Fuzhou and Qingtian county police act as intelligence outposts, taking tips from members of diaspora communities and performing open source intelligence collection.
In a report, 110 Overseas: Chinese Transnational Policing Gone Wild by the NGO, Safeguard Defenders, 54 police stations or police service centers, run by Fuzhou and Qingtian county police have been identified. They operate in 30 countries, over five continents. These include stations in New York, Toronto (with 3 centers), Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Buenos Aires, London (with 2), Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Paris (3), Barcelona (3), and Madrid (3), Florence, Rome, Milan, Prague (2) Frankfort, and Stockholm, among others. These police service centers act as intelligence outposts, taking tips from members of diaspora communities and performing open source intelligence collection, act as intelligence outposts, taking tips from members of diaspora communities and performing open source intelligence collection. Chinese government documents show that at least 10 provinces have been given the mandate to establish similar police service centers.
Overseas Police Training and Joint-Patrols
In addition to these overseas police service centers, China has mobilized their police to extend influence through police training and assistance missions. Notably, this includes police ‘management and leadership’ training to the Solomon Islands. In this case, Chinese law enforcement officers are directly engaging the Royal Solomon Islands Police. There are concerns that this training may expand to include embedded Chinese officers as part of a controversial security agreement for 10 Pacific Island nations.
Leveraging police to expand national security influence is a deliberate strategy to enhance both China’s international standing and internal security. Combined with digital surveillance, Chinese law enforcement fuse traditional and evolving security approaches toward a common, multi-faceted goal. This goal is expanding power and extraterritorial reach. According to a Brookings analysis, “Extending the long arm of the law: China’s international law enforcement drive,” surveillance and security co-operation are cornerstones of this strategy. Tech and police diplomacy merge to extend China’s reach. In 2016, Yunnan Police College in Kunming formed the China-ASEAN Law Enforcement Academy. This was reinforced by Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau forged an international presence, including joint-patrols in Italy. Similar joint-patrols were established in Serbia and Croatia, to reinforce the Belt and Road Initiative. Joint riverine law enforcement patrols were also deployed on the Mekong River.
The joint patrols in Rome and Milan, as well as Zagreb and Dubrovnik, Serbia were aimed at easing security concerns of Chinese tourists. Yet they provide opportunities for abuse and potentially erode sovereignty—or shift the nature of sovereignty to that of a network-state.
Police Diplomacy or Covert Operations?
Global policing is all about influence. That is, on the benign side, projecting power, building relationships for legitimate enforcement, against crimes of concern to the global commons: piracy, terrorism, transnational organized crime, including money laundering, trafficking in drugs, arms, flora, and fauna–including illegal fishing and the ivory trade. The US and its Allies, embrace ‘global metropolitan policing’ as a means of anticipating and containing threats including terrorism and transnational organized crime. This includes a network of law enforcement liaison (such as FBI legal attaches and NYPD’s international liaison officers).
On the dark side, global policing can become a tool for oppression, social control and suppressing political dissent becomes a threat to sovereignty and international law, including human rights. According to the Center for American Progress, “The Expanding International Reach of China’s Police,” the CCP is using China’s Ministry of Public Security (MPS) to influence security sector transformation in favor of Chines priorities. The MPS and its ‘Overseas 100’ initiative alter global norms related to the rule of law and human rights. They do so by fueling 1) unilateral action toward transnational repression (suppressing dissidents, journalists, and critics and enabling illegal rendition operations); 2) forging bi-lateral engagement (joint-patrols, training and capacity building, co-operative agreements); and 3) multilateral engagement through creating new international institutions or co-opting existing institutions.
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