The Dutch government has said it is investigating reports that Chinese police forces have illegally opened at least two stations in the Netherlands since 2018, using them in part to keep tabs and put pressure on overseas dissidents.
An investigation by RTL Nieuws and Follow the Money said the “overseas service stations” in Amsterdam and Rotterdam ostensibly served an administrative purpose, allowing Chinese nationals to renew driving licences and change their civil status.
But the two outlets also spoke to Chinese critics of the Beijing regime living in the Netherlands who said the centres, of whose presence the Dutch authorities had not been notified, were also being used to track, contact and threaten dissidents.
The Dutch foreign ministry said in a statement that the two stations reportedly operating in the Netherlands were illegal. “We are investigating exactly what they are doing here and will then take appropriate action,” it said.
The stations were first identified by a Spanish civil rights group, Safeguard Defenders, in a September report, which alleged that the Fuzhou and Qingtian police agencies had between them opened 54 “overseas service centres” in 25 cities across 21 countries.
Most were located in Europe, the report said, including nine in Spain, four in Italy, three in France, two in the Netherlands and two in the UK, in London and Glasgow. It said part of their purpose was to “persuade” dissidents to return to China.
“These operations eschew official bilateral police and judicial cooperation, violate the international rule of law, and may violate the territorial integrity of third countries by setting up a parallel policing mechanism using illegal methods,” the report said.
The Netherlands and China are signatories to the Vienna convention, which governs diplomatic missions. Prior permission must be granted for any intelligence-gathering activity and administrative matters should be handled by consulates.
Earlier in October, a pro-democracy Hong Kong protester needed overnight hospital treatment after being beaten by men who appeared to emerge from the Chinese consulate in Manchester, prompting calls for a tough UK government response.
The Dutch news outlets said the Amsterdam station was staffed by two former police officers from the Lishui, Qingtian force, while the Rotterdam centre, based in an apartment, was run by a former member of the Chinese military for the Fuzhou provincial force.
Both regions are in eastern China, from where many Chinese nationals in the Netherlands come. According to RTL, several Chinese websites describe part of the stations’ purpose as “cracking down on … criminal activities linked to overseas Chinese”.
One young dissident, Wang Jingyu, who had been critical of the Beijing regime on social media in China and has now been granted asylum in the Netherlands, said he was contacted by the Chinese station in Rotterdam as soon as he arrived.
“They asked me to go back to China to sort out my problems,” he said. “They also told me to think of my parents.” He said he later received threatening text messages and phone calls, including the message “I’m going to kill you” with a photo of a gun.
The Chinese embassy in the Netherlands said in an emailed response it was unaware of the stations’ existence.
Willemijn Aerdts, an intelligence expert at Leiden University, said the reports matched a pattern of more muscular Chinese activity.
“It fits in with what we have seen from China in recent years,” she told the Dutch outlets. “It is up to the government to see how they can protect the Dutch against this and take countermeasures.”