WASHINGTON, Nov 17 (Reuters) – The United States is deeply concerned that the Chinese government is setting up unauthorized “police stations” in U.S. cities to potentially carry out influence operations, FBI Director Christopher Wray told lawmakers on Thursday.
Safeguard Defenders, a Europe-based human rights organization, released a report in September revealing the presence of dozens of Chinese police “service stations” in major cities around the world, including New York.
Republicans in Congress have sought answers from the Biden administration about their influence.
The report said the channels are an extension of Beijing’s efforts to pressure some Chinese nationals or their relatives abroad to return to China to face charges. It also linked them to activities of the Chinese United Front Work Department, a Communist Party body tasked with spreading its influence and propaganda abroad.
“I am very concerned about this. We are aware of the existence of these stations,” Wray said at a hearing of the US Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
“But to me it’s outrageous to think that the Chinese police would try to set up a business, say, in New York, without proper coordination. It violates sovereignty and bypasses the normal processes of judicial and law enforcement cooperation.”
When asked by Republican Senator Rick Scott whether such stations violated US law, Wray said the FBI was “examining the legal framework.”
Republicans in the US House of Representatives, including Greg Murphy and Mike Waltz, sent letters to the Justice Department in October asking whether President Joe Biden’s administration was investigating such channels, arguing that they intimidate US citizens of Chinese descent could be used.
China’s embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Earlier this month, following an investigation by Dutch authorities, the Foreign Ministry denied having such stations in the Netherlands. China said they are offices to help Chinese citizens renew documents.
Wray said the United States had filed a series of indictments in which the Chinese government harassed, stalked, monitored and blackmailed people in the United States who disagreed with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
“It’s a real problem and something we’re also talking about with our foreign partners because we’re not the only country where this has happened,” he said.
The United States in October opened criminal charges against seven Chinese nationals accused of conducting a surveillance and harassment campaign against a US citizen and his family in order to repatriate one back to China from the Chinese government.
It was the latest Justice Ministry case targeting China’s efforts to track down people overseas whom Beijing has identified as criminal suspects, known as “Operation Foxhunt”.
Reporting by Michael Martina and Ted Hesson; Edited by Rosalba O’Brien
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