On Monday, two Chinese nationals were arrested by the Justice Department and accused of running an illegal police station in New York City to surveil and threaten people who were critical of the Chinese government.
Lu Jianwang, 61, from the Bronx, and Chen Jinping, 59, from Manhattan, are accused of establishing the first international police station in the U.S. on behalf of the Fuzhou branch of China's Ministry of Public Security.
How Did American Authorities Find Out?
The people running the clandestine police office located in a Chinatown office building shut it down last year when they found out about the FBI probe, according to federal prosecutors.
Last October, FBI agents conducted a raid on the station and confiscated the cellphones of Lu and Chen.
As per federal prosecutors, the investigators discovered proof that messages between the two men and an official of the Ministry of Public Security had been wiped out.
The FBI's questioning revealed that Lu and Chen had gotten rid of their conversations with the office once they found out about the Justice Department investigation.
Kurt Ronnow, the Acting Assistant Director of the FBI Counterintelligence Division, expressed his outrage at China's Ministry of Public Security for attempting to build a clandestine and illegal police station on American land.
He underlined that this case clearly demonstrates the lengths to which the People's Republic of China will go to impose its views and stifle opposing opinions.
These arrests, although poor for soft power posturing, likely will have little-to-no effect on China’s regional or international partners.
It’s on-brand for them.
What Does China Have To Say?
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson asserted on Tuesday that the assertions made by the U.S. Justice Department about Chinese overseas outposts were unfounded.
According to China, these outposts are not police stations but instead are “service centers” that assist Chinese nationals with matters such as renewing driver's licenses.
Not a bad ploy, Beijing.
At a regular news briefing, Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson, stated that the U.S. had falsely claimed a connection between Chinese diplomatic and consular officials and overseas service stations for overseas Chinese.
Calling it "pure political manipulation," Wang Wenbin also declared that the supposed overseas police stations simply do not exist.
China is way out of pocket and they know it– I guess deny, deny, deny is the best defense.
How Long Has This Been A Problem?
Christopher Wray, the FBI Director, expressed his trepidation during a Senate hearing in November concerning the presence of unapproved stations located in the U.S. which are part of Beijing's influence operations.
A month after Safeguard Defenders published an account that uncovered the existence of Chinese police "service stations" in large cities like New York, Wray commented on the matter.
Wray’s intuition was correct.
On Monday, the United States Justice Department announced the unsealing of two criminal complaints in Brooklyn's federal court against 44 Chinese nationals, who have been accused of persecuting U.S. citizens who criticize the government of Xi Jinping.
This is in addition to the charges brought against Lu and Chen in New York.
The Ministry of State Security in China is facing a complaint from 34 of the nation's police officers regarding a plan they have proposed.
This plan would involve the mass collection of negative opinions expressed on Twitter and a hunt to track down the person responsible, no matter their location, using a database of email and phone numbers.
The grievance further claims that the People's Republic of China is still disseminating propaganda on social media platforms through “anonymized fake accounts that often appear to belong to users outside the PRC.”
The third grievance alleges that 10 other parties interfered with assemblies held by a U.S. telecommunications business to observe the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
With Beijing’s bold denials, it does not appear the People’s Republic of China has any intention of ending clandestine international spy campaigns.
Let’s see how this plays out.