The Dutch government has said it is investigating reports that Chinese police forces have illegally opened at least two police stations in the Netherlands since 2018, using them in part to monitor and pressure foreign dissidents.
An investigation by RTL Nieuws and Follow the Money found that “overseas petrol stations” in Amsterdam and Rotterdam apparently served an administrative purpose, allowing Chinese nationals to renew their driving licenses and change their marital status.
But the two outlets also spoke to Chinese critics of the Beijing regime living in the Netherlands who said the centres, whose presence had not been notified to Dutch authorities, were also used to track, contact and threaten the dissidents.
The Dutch Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the two stations allegedly operating in the Netherlands were illegal. “We are investigating exactly what they are doing here and will then take appropriate action,” he 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 departments between them had opened 54 “service centers in Abroad” in 25 cities in 21 countries.
Most were located in Europe, according to the report, including nine in Spain, four in Italy, three in France, two in the Netherlands and two in the UK, London and Glasgow. He said part of their goal was to “persuade” dissidents to return to China.
“These operations avoid 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 authorization must be granted for any intelligence-gathering activity and administrative matters must be handled by consulates.
Earlier in October, a pro-democracy protester in Hong Kong had to be hospitalized overnight after being beaten by men who appeared to emerge from the Chinese consulate in Manchester, prompting calls for a strong response from the British government.
Dutch news outlets said the Amsterdam station was staffed by two former Lishui force policemen, Qingtian, while the apartment-based Rotterdam center was run by a former member of the Chinese military. for the Fuzhou Provincial Force.
Both regions are in eastern China, where many Chinese nationals in the Netherlands come from. According to RTL, several Chinese websites describe part of the stations’ purpose as “the suppression of criminal activities related to overseas Chinese”.
A young dissident, Wang Jingyu, who had criticized the Beijing regime on social media in China and who has now been granted asylum in the Netherlands, said he was contacted by China’s Rotterdam station 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 about my parents.” He said he later received threatening text messages and phone calls, including the message “I’m going to kill you” with a picture of a gun.
The Chinese Embassy in the Netherlands said in an email response that it was unaware of the existence of the stations.
Willemijn Aerdts, an intelligence expert at Leiden University, said the reports matched a pattern of more muscular Chinese activity.
“It matches what we have seen from China in recent years,” she told Dutch media. “It’s up to the government to see how they can protect the Dutch against this and take countermeasures.”