The Netherlands has at least two illegal Chinese police stations that are in direct contact with the Chinese government. They perform administrative services for the Dutch Chinese. But Follow the Money and RTL Nieuws discovered that employees of these stations also engage in political influencing – and that they approach political opponents of the Chinese regime. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs: ‘If this is true, appropriate action will be taken.’
Longqing Jin [*], the owner of a Chinese restaurant in the Netherlands, received a notification via WeChat in early 2021 that his Chinese driving licence was about to expire. The message came from a Chinese service centre in Amsterdam. Apparently, they maintained direct contact with Chinese authorities.
A trip to China to renew his driver’s licence was out of the question because of corona measures. But he could contact Jie Chen, a staff member at the Amsterdam-based service centre. After this centre checked the restaurant owner’s information, his driving licence was renewed within half an hour.
Jin is not the only person this Amsterdam centre promptly serviced. Zhou Yongwei, who also lives in the Netherlands, had to undergo a medical examination to keep his Chinese driving licence, and this was done online through the same centre in Amsterdam.
According to Safeguard Defenders, Chinese police operate such overseas service centres in at least 30 countries
There is no mention of a Chinese service centre in Amsterdam anywhere in Dutch-language media, and the centre isn’t registered with the Chamber of Commerce. Nor is it mentioned in the March 2021 report titled China’s influence and the Chinese community in the Netherlands, in which professor Frank Pieke outlined the influence of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in our country.
But a recent report by human rights organisation Safeguard Defenders indeed mentions this service centre. According to this NGO, Chinese police operate such overseas service centres in at least 30 countries, of which there are two in the Netherlands: one in Amsterdam and one in Rotterdam.
What are the Chinese police doing here with these secretive affiliates?
The station in Amsterdam provides as many as 77 different services. These range from passport applications and driving licence renewals to searches in immigration registers and ‘restoring [people’s] Chinese nationality’. The stations also arrange all kinds of notarial matters and help with ‘bank deposits, advice on proof of income and buying financial products’. Finally, Dutch Chinese can go there for all their questions on hukou, China’s all-encompassing person registration system.
On 28 September 2018, the state-owned news agency China News reported on the establishment of overseas police stations. By then, the Qingtian police had already established fifteen of them. According to the article, these overseas stations deal with five issues. Fourth point: ‘Qingtian police can use the foreign service centre to gather intelligence, have consultations and carry out swift rescue and assistance operations.’
‘We will investigate exactly what they are doing here and then take appropriate action.’ – the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs
esearcher Willemijn Aerdts of the Leiden Institute of Security and Global Affairs says that these practices violate international treaties. ‘Unless you have concluded agreements within your diplomatic relations, you are only allowed to do such things here with the permission of the Dutch government.’
The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs says the Chinese centres have not been registered and are therefore illegal. ‘We will investigate exactly what they are doing here and then take appropriate action,’ a spokesperson said. A spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy denies everything. ‘We didn’t know the issue you mentioned in the first place.’
Recently, on Dam Square in Amsterdam, a Falun Gong supporter was handing out leaflets on the spiritual movement banned in China. A man with a Cantonese accent addressed her and told her he had left Hong Kong because the Chinese government was increasingly restricting all freedoms. She told Follow the Money that they subsequently had a lengthy conversation.
‘He then warned me about a Chinese police station in Rotterdam that uses “deceitful talk” to “persuade” Chinese who live in the Netherlands and defend human rights to return to China. According to him, several people have since complied.’
That the Rotterdam police station approaches dissidents is also evident from Wang Jingyu’s story. Jingyua left China in July 2019, after he had publicly expressed his support for the Hong Kong protests. In February 2021, he openly questioned via social media the official reading of the number of casualties on the Chinese side in skirmishes between Chinese and Indian troops in June 2000.
The police in his hometown of Chongqing charged him with ‘insulting and belittling heroes’ and ‘arguing and causing trouble’. To force Wang to return, both his parents were fired from the state-owned company where they worked; they were later imprisoned. After many wanderings, Wang ended up in the Netherlands last year, where he was granted asylum.
Since then, Wang has been detained for several hours for allegedly making a number of bomb threats, including in Belgium. But police investigations concluded that he was not involved in any of them. RTL Nieuws and Follow the Money were able to access the messaging traffic to and from Wang and verified his story.
Wang claims that the Chinese government or members of the CCP are behind it. Making false bomb threats and having critics of the regime pay for them is now a well-known trick of the Chinese government. In London, for example, Australian human rights activist Drew Pavlou had to face similar tactics.
Wang, whom Chinese police are still searching for, says he was contacted by phone in the Netherlands. ‘A few months ago, a Dutch number called me. The caller didn’t give his namen, but said he was with the Chinese Overseas Police Service. He asked me to go back to China. Think about your parents, he said,if you go to China now, you can fix this problem. At that time, I didn’t know they had a police station in the Netherlands. [..] Does the Dutch government know that the Chinese opened an overseas police station in the Netherlands? If they know, why can they do this?’
Later, he received vague emails with abusive language. They were coming from the number of the Rotterdam-based overseas police station.
In their 110 Overseas report: Chinese Transnational Policing Gone Wild, human rights organisation Safeguard Defenders claims that overseas police stations are also involved in fraud prevention. China has been struggling with various forms of online and telecom fraud for several years, mainly involving Chinese nationals outside the motherland. Chinese fraudsters residing abroad are put under intense pressure to return to China. If they do not, their families in China are harassed.
The operation to ‘persuade’ Chinese suspected of fraud to turn themselves in, in China, often with the help of illegal overseas police stations, is a great success, according to the Chinese authorities. Between April 2021 and July 2022, 230 thousand Chinese people are said to have already returned to China to stand trial.
In its report, Safeguard Defenders provides two examples of European Chinese who have been ‘persuaded’ to return. The first is a Chinese person living in Spain who was wanted in China for environmental pollution. He was ‘swayed’ to return to China through the Qingtian City Hometown Association of Spain during an online meeting with local police in China.
‘I do not see what is wrong with pressurising criminals so that they are brought to justice’
Spanish newspaper El Correo investigated the matter and spoke to an official from the Chinese Foreign Ministry in Shanghai. He acknowledged the course of events: ‘The bilateral treaties are very cumbersome, and Europe is reluctant to extradite to China. I do not see what is wrong with pressurising criminals so that they are brought to justice.’
The second example dates from 2018. Xia, a Chinese man living in Belgrade, was accused of theft. The Overseas Police Station, run by Qingtian police, tracked his address in Serbia. He was also ‘persuaded’ to return to China to serve his sentence.
According to Safeguard Defenders, staying in Europe is not an option. They say numerous government reports and documents show that family members left behind in China can be punished if someone does not return. Police officials who fail to ‘persuade’ someone may be subject to investigation by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspections, also known as the CCP’s internal police.
Aerdts describes this practice as ‘incredibly audacious’: ‘In recent years, we have seen that the Chinese have become increasingly shameless in achieving their goals. First, they stole intellectual property on a large scale to strengthen their own economy, and now they are attempting to exert widespread organised control over their diaspora and dissidents.’
The Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) has been issuing warnings since 2018 about countries that are attempting to influence their ‘emigrated (ex) citizens’. Iran, Russia, Turkey and China engage in this practice, according to the AIVD.
Direct link to the Chinese police
Who are the individuals behind this Amsterdam-based service centre, and what links do they have with China?
A March 2021 article in the United Times lists the names and mobile phone numbers of the five men who make up the Amsterdam service centre. Three of them, location leader Yanping Shu and his deputies Jie Chen and Xiangrong Zhou, are also board members of the Qingtian Netherlands Foundation. That foundation, like the service centre in Amsterdam, was established in 2018. According to the United Times, Shu and Chen gained experience ‘in the public security sector’ before leaving China.
In the same article, the United Times reported extensively on an online meeting a month earlier. Yan Hua Rong, a member of the party committee and deputy director of Lishui’s Public Security Bureau, had a live chat with staff from overseas stations in Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Ukraine and Cambodia.
During the meeting, the Amsterdam station was awarded as one of the ‘Top Ten Outstanding Service Centres’. The head of the Amsterdam station also received the ‘Special Contribution Award for the Fight against Epidemics’.
The term ‘police station’ is not a slip of the tongue
According to the United Times, the Amsterdam centre and a station in Spain are among the first overseas police stations established. The term ‘police station’ is not a slip of the tongue. The Lishui division of the United Front Work, the propaganda and influencing arm of the CCP, has a page on its website about its overseas stations that, it says, ‘facilitate foreign-related police work’.
Yanping Shu, the leader of the Amsterdam centre and chairman of the Qingtian Netherlands Foundation, also called his centre a police station. He did so at Ocean Paradise restaurant at Parkhaven in Rotterdam on 6 September 2022.
An account of that meeting appeared two days later on the Qingtian Media Group website. Over five hundred Chinese from Belgium, Spain, Luxembourg, France, Germany and, of course, the Netherlands were present in Ocean Paradise. Also present: senior representatives of the Chinese Embassy in The Hague and leaders of all major Chinese associations in the Netherlands. The evening was dedicated to the transition of the board of directors of the Qingtian Netherlands Foundation.
In his speech, retiring chairman Yanping Shu especially thanked the Chinese Embassy, with which he had maintained such a good relationship. In front of the packed auditorium, he listed ten things the foundation has achieved under his rule.
Number three on his list: the establishment of the Dutch-stationed Lishui Police Overseas Chinese Post. Number six: his personal involvement in the election campaign of young Chinese-Dutch Renjie Luo, who ran for the Christian Democratic Party (CDA) in the 2018 municipal election in The Hague. As a member of the overseas police station, Shu apparently endeavoured to get a CCP-friendly Dutch Chinese into The Hague’s council. (Luo obtained 619 votes, not sufficient for a seat.)
The last item on his list: Shu boasted that he has always stood for the ‘greater cause of peaceful reunification of the motherland with Taiwan’, and that his foundation has always supported the position and decisions of the Chinese government ‘unequivocally’.
Downstairs flat in Rotterdam
The Fuzhou Police Overseas Service Station is housed in a downstairs flat on Van der Sluysstraat in Rotterdam-North. That’s the address of Fabiao Zheng (63), owner of a small handyman business. Both his address and his mobile number appear in a list of overseas Fuzhou police stations published by the Toutiao Chinese magazine early this year. When Follow the Money and RTL Nieuws called that mobile number, a man answered and confirmed that he is Zheng. He didn’t answer questions about the police station, nor did he respond to our extensive email.
An article about Zheng’s background reveals that his uncle was a ‘senior military officer’ who persuaded him to join the army. After his honourable discharge, he moved to the Netherlands, where he worked in various restaurants. In 2014, he founded the Dutch Centre for Chinese Professionals, which aims to serve the motherland by combining economics and technology. Zheng says in the article that he will always support the Chinese government and overseas Chinese associations and will forward all ‘well-advanced ideas and technology to China’.
According to the state-owned news agency China News, the Netherlands now has a third Chinese police station. On 25 February 2021, the Wenzhou city administration reported having established five new overseas service centres for former, now emigrated residents of this port city. One of them is located in the Netherlands. Follow the Money and RTL Nieuws were unable to find out in which city this third office is located.
When referring to Dutch Chinese people, we usually put their surname last, while in China, is it customary to put their family name first.
Trabnslation: Delia Burggraaf
The leaders of the Netherlands-based police stations did not respond to questions. In a comment, the Chinese Embassy in the Netherlands said it did not know of the existence of the police stations. Remarkable, as senior embassy officials were present at the meeting in Rotterdam’s Ocean Paradise restaurant, where the establishment of the Amsterdam station was discussed. The Lishui police deny having a police station in Amsterdam: ‘It is just a service station for Chinese people abroad.’
Spanish human rights organisation Safeguard Defenders released a rapport on Chinese police stations abroad last September. In it, they mentioned two posts in the Netherlands. RTL Nieuws and Follow the Money then investigated the Dutch stations in more detail. To this end, we looked at Chinese government websites, public posts on Chinese social media, articles on Chinese news sites, and publications aimed at Dutch Chinese.