The FBI is investigating an unauthorized “police station” that China is running out of New York as part of a global network of such outposts, FBI Director Christopher Wray said on Thursday, vowing to put a stop to Beijing’s law enforcement activity in the United States.
Speaking during a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing, Wray said the FBI is “aware of the existence these stations.”
“I have to be careful about discussing our specific investigative work, but to me, it’s outrageous to think that the Chinese police would attempt to set up shop in New York, for example, without proper coordination,” the FBI director said.
The Chinese operation “violates sovereignty and circumvents standard judicial and law enforcement cooperation processes,” Wray said.
In September, the Spanish-based human rights watchdog Safeguard Defenders reported that China has set up at least 54 “overseas police service stations” around the world, including one in New York City and three in Toronto. The group said its list was based on official statements but the actual number may be higher.
While tasked with cracking down on Chinese-related illegal activities overseas, the police stations represent “the latest iteration in [China’s] growing transnational repression, where it seeks to police and limit political expression far beyond its own borders,” the report said.
The Chinese embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.
Chinese officials have repeatedly said the police service stations assist Chinese nationals overseas with routine matters such as renewing driver’s licenses, functions that would normally be handled by an embassy or consulate.
“Chinese public security authorities strictly observe the international law and fully respect the judicial sovereignty of other countries,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning was quoted as saying last month.
Asked by Republican Senator Rick Scott of Florida if the Chinese police had a “right” to operate on U.S. soil, Wray said the FBI was examining “the legal parameters of it” and had talked to the Justice Department and the Department of State about unsanctioned operations.
“I can tell you from an FBI director perspective, I’m deeply concerned about this, and I’m not going to just let it lie,” Wray said.
The FBI is not the only law enforcement agency probing an overseas Chinese police station.
In the two months since the Safeguard Defenders’ report was released, at least 14 governments, including those of Britain, Canada and Germany, have opened investigations into the operations, according to Safeguard Defenders.
Wray said the FBI has been in talks with its international law enforcement partners about the Chinese police outfits “because we’re not the only country where it has occurred.”
Most of the Chinese overseas police stations appear to be concentrated in Europe. The Irish government said last month it had asked China to shut down a police station operating in Dublin, The Associated Press reported. The Dutch government said it was looking into whether two stations named by Safeguard Defenders were established in the Netherlands, according to the AP.
Although the FBI had previously not acknowledged the existence of the Chinese police station in New York, the bureau has long known about Chinese law enforcement targeting dissidents and others on U.S. soil.
“We’ve seen a clear pattern of the Chinese government, of the Chinese Communist Party exporting their repression right here into the U.S.,” Wray said. “We’ve had a number of indictments … of the Chinese engaging in 'law enforcement action’ right here in the United States, harassing, stalking, surveilling, and blackmailing people who they don’t like or disagree with the [Chinese President] Xi [JInping] regime.”
In response to China’s increased use of transnational repression, the Biden administration has adopted a whole-of-government approach that includes visa restrictions, export controls, and the investigation and prosecution of perpetrators, Uzra Zeya, undersecretary of state for civilian security, democracy and human rights, told a congressional panel in June.
In July, a grand jury indicted five people, including a federal law enforcement officer and a private investigator, in connection with a scheme to silence Chinese dissidents living in the United States.
In October, the Justice Department charged seven Chinese citizens in a scheme to force the return to China of a Chinese citizen living in New York.
The indictments came after the State Department imposed visa restrictions on several Chinese Communist Party officials in March, accusing them of committing “repressive acts” against religious and ethnic minorities.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press.