China denied accusations that it runs “illegal overseas police stations” that a human rights group says are used to track down criminal suspects, saying it is only helping nationals with issues like renewing drivers’ licenses.
When asked about reports China has two such police stations in the Netherlands, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said “the allegation is simply untrue. They are in fact overseas Chinese service centers,” he said at a regular press briefing on Wednesday, helping people who can’t return home due to COVID-19.
Public security officials in the Asian nation were “strictly observing international law and fully respecting the judicial sovereignty of other countries,” Wang added.
The Dutch government has started an investigation into the facilities, the Financial Times reported, citing a Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Maxime Hovenkamp. “The Chinese government never informed us about the centers through diplomatic channels so that makes them illegal,” she said.
The human rights group Safeguard Defenders said in a September report that it found China had opened 54 stations in 30 countries, including the US, UK, Brazil and Nigeria. Much of their work involved helping Chinese nationals, it said, but added that a station in Madrid “has been actively working with Chinese police to engage in covert and illegal policing operations” in Spain.
The rights group cited an episode involving a suspect in Madrid who is wanted in China in an environmental pollution case. The man “was approached, in Spain and was ‘educated’ via staff of the Madrid overseas service station,” Safeguard Defenders said. Officials back in China then held a teleconference with the suspect, the group said, citing clips of the meeting.
A similar incident happened with a person in Serbia suspected of theft, the group said.
It wasn’t clear why routine citizen services couldn’t be provided by existing consulates or embassies, which typically perform those duties.