Over the past decade, those interested in China’s role in the Middle East have investigated its network of infrastructure projects known as the Belt and Road Initiative, its diplomatic overtures to Iran and Saudi Arabia, and its heavy dependence on Middle Eastern oil. Mordechai Chaziza turns his attention to a very different issue: Beijing’s below-the-radar efforts to police its citizens living abroad.
According to the human-rights group Safeguard Defenders, . . . China has 102 overseas police stations in 53 countries spanning five continents. The considerable size of Chinese overseas communities has allowed China to field an extensive global presence through these stations. The Chinese overseas service-stations network is managed by China’s Ministry of Public Security. . . . Their official tasks are to help Chinese citizens overseas with administrative issues, such as renewing their driving licenses.
Nevertheless, there are also reports of the stations being involved in “persuade to return” operations (attempts by the Chinese authorities, either directly or via proxies, to get criminal suspects or dissidents to return home for investigation and/or prosecution). According to China’s Ministry of Public Security, between April 2021 and July 2022, the Chinese authorities arrested 230,000 suspects overseas, mainly from Southeast Asia, primarily relating to cases of suspected telecom fraud.
The role of these stations’ networks in advancing China’s interests and extraditing Chinese citizens has naturally caused concern in the West, although their response was slow. More than a dozen countries have launched probes against the stations in recent months, and other countries have significantly scaled back their cooperation with them. For its part, the Chinese government has consistently denied the existence of overseas police-service stations.
According to Safeguard Defenders’ report, Chinese overseas police-service centers are located only in two countries in the Middle East: one in Israel and two in the UAE.