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China's dirty tactics of intimidation aimed at Australians

By 60 Minutes

June 18, 2023

When human rights activist Drew Pavlou was arrested protesting outside the Chinese Embassy in London last year, he didn't realise the extent of the campaign that had been waged against him (60 Minutes)

While Mr Pavlou knew protesting could make him a target for the Chinese, he didn't expect things would be taken to the extreme.

For six months after his arrest as a terror suspect, he received more than 40 emails threatening to kill him.

He claims he has since tracked the emails back to a mercenary working for the Chinese Communist Party.

China now stands accused of running a secret police force in 53 countries around the world, including this recently-revealed police outpost in Manhattan. (60 Minutes)

"It did really knock me out for a good chunk of the year," Mr Pavlou told Tara Brown.

"It's tough to admit that in a way, they won that round. I knew [the protests] would make me a target. I didn't realise they'd have me arrested as a terror suspect."

Drew's mum, Vanessa, has also found herself caught in the crossfire, despite never having publicly criticised the Chinese Communist Party.

Like her son, she too has a $50,000 bounty on her head, and her reputation has been attacked.

A bizarre email was distributed around major shopping centres in Brisbane in a bid to get Ms Pavlou fired from the retail outlet where she worked.

The email falsely and outrageously claimed she was running an illegal prostitution service and was a cocaine addict.

It went on to say whoever terminated her first would receive "remuneration".

"I'm always looking over my shoulder," Ms Pavlous said.

"If I'm walking to my car, I'm always aware."

Another person who's all too familiar with intimidating death threats is Australian political artist, Badi.

Badi, who lived in China for 20 years before going into exile in Australia, is considered an enemy of the state for his art, which often paints the Chinese Communist leader, Xi Jingping, as a tyrant.

Renowned artist and political activist Badiucao or “Badi” continues to be intimidated for depicting the communist leader in an undesirable light. (60 Minutes)

The acclaimed artist says Chinese authorities have put so much pressure on local galleries he can't get his work shown in Australia.

And while his international reputation has grown, Badi has had to sever ties with his own family in China in order to keep them safe after they were targeted and interrogated by Chinese authorities.

To ensure his own safety and survival, Badi is constantly on the move, travelling between different cities and countries.

However, it doesn't stop the near-daily death threats he receives through emails and social media.

He says he's positive these threats come from China.

"No matter how far you are in Australia, in America, in Europe, if you offend China, then you will be killed," Badi told 60 Minutes.

And now, the intimidation from China has been stepped up to terrifying new heights. China stands accused of running a secret police force in 53 countries around the world.

Badi says this Chinese force is a clear breach of international law.

"It's definitely designed to be monitoring, harassing, and creating some kind of intimidation against anyone who wants to criticise the Chinese government," he said.

It's believed that more than 100 of these stations operate out of restaurants, private homes, and small businesses.

Documents sourced from Chinese authorities suggest two secret stations are located in Australia.

Human rights organisation, Safeguard Defenders, used open-source material collected from the Chinese web, and uncovered more than a hundred police stations. China proudly claims they are designed to provide services to Chinese nationals living abroad as well as catch criminals who’ve fled the mainland. (60 Minutes)

Senator James Patterson, head of Australia's foreign interference committee, says the emergence of these police stations is a shocking clandestine incursion.

"We have the risk that the Chinese police have been trying to covertly operate in Australia, without the consent of the Australian government," Patterson said.

"And that is a serious concern."

Laura Harth is the campaign director of human rights organisation Safeguard Defenders.

Last year, she and her team uncovered evidence of more than a hundred police stations using open source material collected from the Chinese web.

"The public security bureaus that have been setting up these stations are the local expression, if you will, of the Ministry of Public Security," Harth said.

"So these are really police authorities within the People's Republic of China."

The Australian Federal Police denies the Chinese police stations are active in Australia, but Patterson's fears have not been allayed.

An address in Sydney has been identified in documents out of China as being one of the secret police stations. The home is owned by the executive president of an organisation in China that helped set up the underground police force around the world. (60 Minutes)

"It should be crystal clear one way or the other," he said.

"It would be unusual if you think about it, that Australia was one of the only countries in the world that didn't have any of those sites operational."

Months of investigation by 60 Minutes has uncovered a Sydney address that appears to have been set up as one of the secret police stations.

The building is owned by the executive president of an organisation in China that helped establish the underground police force around the world.

Victor Gao, a former Chinese foreign affairs diplomat, says the police stations exist to provide to the overseas community the same administrative services available to them in China, like renewing driver's licences.

Patterson says it would be illegal for foreign police services to operate any sort of liaison office within Australia without consent from the Australian government.

Former Chinese foreign affairs diplomat Victor Gao says the overseas police stations provide administrative services to Chinese nationals. (60 Minutes)

"I'm not aware of the Australian government ever giving consent for these to be operated," he said.

"It certainly would be totally unlawful."

Gao dismisses claims Australians who speak out against China will be targets of a hate campaign designed to silence them.

"China has so many things to care about. We have 1.4 billion people to feed and clothe. Do you really think we still have enough energy and resources to engage in what you talk about?" he said.

It is believed there are more than a hundred of these individual police stations and they operate out of restaurants, private homes and small businesses. (60 Minutes)

Statement from the Chinese Embassy in Australia

"The Chinese side have stated our position on such rhetoric multiple times.

"There is no so-called overseas police stations.

"The relevant institutions helped overseas Chinese who could not return to China due to the pandemic renew their driving licence and perform physical examination.

"They are not so-called police stations or police service centres at all.

"The local Chinese groups who helped provide venues for the services and the volunteers are Chinese from the local communities who are willing to help their compatriots, not Chinese police personnel.

"In light of the evolving COVID situation and relevant services now available online, the relevant service centres have been closed.

"China always upholds the principle of non-interference in other countries' internal affairs, strictly observes the international law, and respects the judicial sovereignty of all countries.

"We urge relevant parties to stop spreading disinformation and stop smearing and discrediting China."

Watch the full episode of 60 Minutes on 9Now.


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