The station, in New York’s Chinatown, was allegedly run by Beijing’s ministry of public security to track Chinese dissidents
By Julian Borger in Washington
April 18, 2023
A six-story glass facade building, center, is believed to be the site of a foreign police outpost for China in New York's Chinatown. Photograph: Bebeto Matthews/AP
The FBI has arrested two men accused of running a covert station for China’s police force in New York, and using it as a base to track Chinese dissidents living in the US.
The station, in Manhattan’s Chinatown, was allegedly set up in February 2022 and operated by Beijing’s ministry of public security (MPS) as part of a campaign of transnational repression against Chinese pro-democracy activists and other political opponents around the world.
The alleged secret police station in New York was raided in October, and on Monday morning the FBI arrested two New Yorkers suspected of running it.
China has insisted that the New York site and similar offices around the world are run by volunteers and are not connected with the police. On Tuesday a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson again denied all accusations of an overseas police presence and accused the US of making “groundless accusations”.
Breon Peace, the US attorney for the eastern district of New York, said there was now evidence of direct ties between Chinese police and the New York site.
“Two miles from our office, just across the Brooklyn Bridge, this nondescript office building in the heart of bustling Chinatown in lower Manhattan had a dark secret until several months ago. An entire floor of this building hosted an undeclared police station of the Chinese national police,” Peace said.
The station provided some Chinese government services, like helping renew driving licences, but failed to register with the justice department as agents of a foreign government, the charges said.
“More troubling though is the fact that the secret police station appears to have had a more sinister use,” Peace said. “On at least one occasion, an official with the Chinese national police directed one of the defendants, a US citizen who worked at the secret police station, to help locate a pro-democracy activist of Chinese descent living in California. In other words, the Chinese national police appear to be using the station to track a US resident on US soil.”
The two New York residents arrested, “Harry” Lu Jianwang, 61, and 59-year-old Chen Jinping, are also charged with obstruction of justice for allegedly deleting evidence on their phones of their contacts with an MPS official before a FBI search of the Chinatown police station in October of last year. The justice department said the two men admitted to deleting the material from their phones.
“It is simply outrageous that China’s ministry of public security thinks it can get away with establishing a secret, illegal police station on US soil to aid its efforts to export repression and subvert our rule of law,” Kurt Ronnow, the acting assistant director of the FBI’s counterintelligence division, said. “This case serves as a powerful reminder that the People’s Republic of China will stop at nothing to bend people to their will and silence messages they don’t want anyone to hear.”
A Spanish civil rights group, Safeguard Defenders, claimed last year that there are dozens of Chinese police stations in cities around the world, covertly carrying out surveillance and harassment. The alleged stations were mostly in Europe with nine in Spain, four in Italy, three in France, two in the Netherlands and three in the UK, in London and Glasgow, where their operations have been under police investigation. Three others were in Canada, where the alleged operations helped add to growing political tensions between Ottawa and Beijing.