International police cooperation is a vital component of the rule of law. International organizations like INTERPOL, bilateral prisoner transfer treaties and international law enforcement cooperation help ensure that transnational criminals and fugitives can find no safe haven almost anywhere in the world.
In addition to treaty signatories, it is common for individual governments to cooperate in international criminal investigations and negotiate the extradition of criminals on an ad hoc or case by case basis. Foreign embassies in the United States and US embassies abroad provide law enforcement liaison and cooperation as part of their diplomatic services.
The story of absconding to Rio to avoid extradition is a popular plot device in the movies, but it’s just that. You can indeed be extradited from Brazil. And we’ll see how long Carlos Ghosn remains protected in Lebanon despite an Interpol Red Notice for his arrest.
Given the billions in international trade between the United States and the People’s Republic of China, it should come as no surprise that the US and China have cooperated in criminal justice investigations and in 2001 signed the Agreement on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters.
Outside of these agreements it is illegal for foreign agents to operate as law enforcement officials in other countries. Anyone working as a foreign “agent” in the United States is required to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
This brings us to the recent incident involving illegal Chinese policing in New York. In October, a bipartisan group of Members of Congress addressed their concerns regarding transnational repression of Chinese nationals and US citizens by agents of the PRC in a letter to the Justice Department that concluded:
In 2020 the Chinese government’s campaign illegally targeting U.S. residents to force their return to China had become so severe that the FBI issued an internal memorandum on this issue. The Chinese overseas police service station established in New York City earlier this year appears to be a further step of China’s illicit long arm policing on U.S. soil that violates our sovereignty.
On April 17, the US Department of Justice issued a two count complaint against 44 citizens of the People’s Republic of China, alleging in part:
…the PRC government deploys its national police and the 912 Special Project Working Group not as an instrument to uphold the law and protect public safety, but rather as a troll farm that attacks persons in our country for exercising free speech in a manner that the PRC government finds disagreeable, and also spreads propaganda whose sole purpose is to sow divisions within the United States…
Further, the DOJ alleges that:
Julien Jin and his co-conspirators in the Ministry of Public Security and Cyberspace Administration of China weaponized the U.S. telecommunications company he worked for to intimidate and silence dissenters and enforce PRC law to the detriment of Chinese activists in New York, among other places, who had sought refuge in this country to peacefully express their pro-democracy views.
Safeguard Defenders, a Spain based NGO monitoring Chinese “police” activity police globally has identified over 100 Chinese police stations operating around the world, including a recently closed station in New York City where, on April 17, the FBI arrested two US citizens acting under orders from the Chinese government for operating a Chinese “undeclared” overseas police station tracking US citizens and residents.
The police station operated within what is known as the American ChangLe Association of New York – a registered charity whose social and political activity included an event that played host to NYC Mayor Eric Adams, State Senator John Liu, and NYC Councilmembers Sandra Ung and Chris Marte.
In California, the National Review reported that the Chinese consul-general in Los Angeles was involved in payments of $400.00 to “protestors” who were paid to disrupt the visit of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on her recent visit to Los Angeles and meetings with Members of Congress including Speaker Kevin McCarthy, as well as sending threatening emails to representatives who have expressed support for Taiwan.
Safeguard has published a detailed report on Chinese international policing called “110 Overseas – Chinese Transnational Policing Gone Wild” where they allege that Chinese police have coerced over 230,000 Chinese living abroad to return to China, have threatened their families with “guilt by association” sanctions including refusal of public services, healthcare, and education for their children.
According to Safeguard, the Chinese Communist Party is appropriating Chinese expat associations known as “overseas hometown associations.”
Further, they write that these organizations:
Have by now become overwhelmingly co-opted by the CCP’s United Front organizations, which seek to increasingly control the Chinese diaspora. Leaders of hometown associations are frequently rewarded with meetings with CCP officials, participation in party-organized events and symbolic appointments to party-controlled bodies in China. 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.
In November 2020, the FBI issued a CounterIntelligence Bulletin warning US law enforcement of a Chinese efforts to illegally repatriate individuals to China by coopting US police agencies, tasking US citizens and residents to locate targets, coercing targets and their families, friends and associates, hiring private investigators, forcing targets to return to China under escort, and arresting family members in China or preventing their departure from China.
Today, the FBI considers the government of China and the Chinese Communist Party “a grave threat to the economic well-being and democratic values of the United States” and further warns:
The Chinese government is employing tactics that seek to influence lawmakers and public opinion to achieve policies that are more favorable to China.
At the same time, the Chinese government is seeking to become the world’s greatest superpower through predatory lending and business practices, systematic theft of intellectual property, and brazen cyber intrusions.
China’s efforts target businesses, academic institutions, researchers, lawmakers, and the general public and will require a whole-of-society response. The government and the private sector must commit to working together to better understand and counter the threat.
What the FBI calls “transnational repression” is expressly illegal.
This is not the international standard of policing cooperation set forth in international law but a new tactic to extend the authority of the Chinese state to other countries via a gulag of illegal police stations.
Steve Smith is a senior fellow in urban studies at the Pacific Research Institute, and is the author of the new PRI study on California’s growing crime trend, “Paradise Lost.”