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What exactly are overseas Chinese 'police stations'?

…it depends on who you ask
The Wenzhou Friendship Society is located on Hazelbridge Way in Richmond.

The probe into an alleged Chinese “police station” nestled in a residential neighbourhood in Richmond has left many intrigued by its operations.

The Wenzhou Friendship Society, located on Hazelbridge Way, was reported to be under RCMP investigation amidst allegations of a Chinese police station being set up in Vancouver.

An RCMP statement from December 2022 confirmed that a national investigation into “criminal activity in relation to the so-called ‘police’ stations” are underway.

However, while the statement acknowledged there is “foreign actor interference activity in Canada from foreign state actors,” the RCMP has declined to provide further information on the ongoing investigation.

According to a report by Safeguard Defenders, a Spanish human rights organization, “overseas Chinese police ‘service stations’” have been established in “dozens” of countries in recent years.

Such organizations operate under the guise of a Chinese police campaign to contain online fraud. In fact, the so-called “service stations” were used by Chinese police to carry out “persuasion to return” operations where overseas Chinese nationals are intimidated or pressured to return to China to “face justice,” the report alleges.

“These operations eschew official bilateral police and judicial cooperation and violate the international rule of law and may violate the territorial integrity of third countries involved in setting up a parallel policing mechanism using illegal methods,” reads the report.

One of the earlier mentions of “overseas police service stations” dates back to a Chinese state media report in 2019, which announced the Qingtian county police of Zhejiang Province had established an overseas police service centre in 2018 to provide “convenient” services.

The Chinese police claimed the services were related to passport renewal, police operations, collecting opinions from the diaspora community and spreading policy information. A team of 135 Qingtianese diasporas was apparently hired to lead the operations.

The issue of these “service stations” gained international notoriety in 2022, when the “110 Overseas” initiative from Fuzhou city in China’s Fujian province kicked off.

According to an article from the state-owned newspaper Fujian Daily, the initiative offers police services over the phone and online platforms, as well as other services similar to the Qingtian operations.

The initiative, pioneered by Fuzhou Public Security Bureau, was apparently the first of its kind in the country. Anecdotes retold in the article include one of a woman calling from the U.S. to report her daughter, who was living in Fuzhou, missing.

Another tells the tale of a Fuzhounese businessman calling from Mozambique to report an employee who stole money from his company and escaped back to China. The employee was apparently caught within a month.

The Safeguard Defenders report links such “service stations” to the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front strategy and overseas associations, such as Richmond’s Wenzhou Friendship Society.

“Leaders of hometown associations are frequently rewarded with meetings with CCP officials, participation in party-organised events and symbolic appointments to party-controlled bodies in China,” reads the Safeguard Defenders report.“In return, they are expected to assist the party in its propaganda and political influence activities, such as promoting China’s invasion (under the propaganda guise of “peaceful reunification”) of Taiwan.”

The Chinese embassy, however, has told CBC that the "service stations" are staffed with volunteers, not police officers, to help overseas nationals and are not involved in "any criminal investigation or relevant activity."

As of now, the RCMP has yet to provide a definition for what a Chinese “police station” is and whether there is in fact one in Richmond.