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Police officers at work in Tokyo. One of the unofficial Chinese ‘police stations’ is understood to be in the Japanese capital’s Kanda district. Photo: Kyodo

Japan urged to root out secret Chinese ‘police stations’ amid spying concerns

  • Lawmakers were alerted to the existence of two unofficial Chinese ‘police stations’ in Japan, which are said to be keeping tabs on dissenters
  • The facilities have caused alarm among Japanese politicians, who described them as a national security concern and spy threat

The Japanese government is coming under growing pressure to divulge what it knows about Beijing setting up unofficial Chinese police stations in the country – that reportedly monitor its citizens abroad – with one lawmaker demanding the facilities be shut immediately.

Spanish human rights organisation, Safeguard Defenders, identified 102 such Chinese government facilities in 53 countries around the world, and shared information on two such unofficial police stations in Japan with the Foreign Ministry.

The ministry alerted politicians to the matter, with a conservative group within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party holding a meeting in the Diet on Monday. The group, known as The Conference to Protect Japan’s Dignity and National Interest, demanded the government provide more information on the issue.

Canadian police are also investigating reports that China has been operating overseas ‘police stations’ in Canada. Photo: AP

The government’s immediate response was that it already registered an official protest with Beijing, stating any activities that infringe upon Japan’s sovereignty were “absolutely unacceptable”.

Safeguard Defenders claims to have obtained details about two Chinese police stations in Japan. One is understood to be in the Kanda district of Tokyo and operated by the public Security bureau of Fuzhou in China’s Fujian province.

There are few details on the second facility, including its exact location, but it is believed to have been set up by officers from the Nantong public security bureau in Jiangsu province.

Canada probes reports of Chinese ‘police service stations’ as security threats

According to the NGO, the United Front Work Department of China’s Communist Party oversees the operation of the secret police stations and uses them to monitor overseas Chinese. Critics have suggested that intimidation is used to stifle dissent and persuade individuals wanted by the Chinese authorities to return home.

Beijing has dismissed the claims, saying the “110 service stations” abroad are merely designed to assist overseas Chinese citizens, in matters such as renewing their driving licences.

Exposure of the unofficial police stations in Europe and North America has caused an outcry, with Ireland and the Netherlands both ordering the closure of the facilities in their territories.


Illegal Chinese police centres in Netherlands ordered to shut immediately

Illegal Chinese police centres in Netherlands ordered to shut immediately
The United States, Britain and Canada are among a number of other countries that have opened investigations into the operations of the stations and their staff. It is expected that they will also order the offices to cease operations.

“One has to be very concerned as we do not know the kind of organisation that the Chinese have installed in these underground police stations,” said Keiro Kitagami, an independent member of the Japanese parliament’s lower house.

“Having a foreign nation operating police here would be contrary to Japan’s national security, especially if the Chinese authorities had gone ahead and done that without telling the Japanese government,” he said. “For me, the government has no option but to order these places to be shut down immediately.”

Human rights group says China has more ‘police stations’ abroad than first reported

Yoichi Shimada, a professor of international relations at Fukui Prefectural University, said conservative politicians that he had spoken to were “very angry” at Beijing’s actions.

Citing testimony given by FBI Director Christopher Wray to the US Congress, Shimada said the activities of Chinese officials at the police stations went beyond merely monitoring dissidents, and were likely part of the Chinese government’s espionage apparatus.

“The US has confirmed that it has evidence of electronic listening devices being planted in Americans’ cars and other surveillance, so it is quite clear that these are not just to keep an eye on Chinese nationals’ activities, but they also act as bases from which to spy on the US and Japan,” Shimada said. “These officials are not police; they are engaged in espionage.”


Chinese ‘overseas service stations’ under scrutiny after claims they are illegal police stations

Chinese ‘overseas service stations’ under scrutiny after claims they are illegal police stations

Shimada claimed the rest of the world had been “slow to wake up” to the threat posed by China because of the ties it had worked assiduously to form with foreign politicians and leaders, including in Japan. Now the scale of the “infiltration” has been identified, he added, a firmer approach to Beijing is warranted.

“This is a clear violation of international law and the Japanese government does not have to give a reason for expelling undesirable foreign nationals, so that is what I believe they should do,” Shimada said.

Japanese media outlets have also become more vocal, with the Sankei newspaper publishing an editorial in which it demanded the government “urgently get to the bottom of this situation”.

“If it is found that Japan’s sovereignty has been violated, then these operations need to be rooted out,” it said. “Japan is a free country. It must not allow undercover police agents dispatched by authoritarian China to engage in transnational repression on its soil.”