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Chinese "Overseas Police Service Stations"

Volume 733: debated on Tuesday 6 June 2023

Last November, I committed to update the House on the response to media reporting of unofficial Chinese “police service stations.” The Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire reiterated this commitment in April.

Reports by the non-governmental organisation Safeguard Defenders claimed that there were three Chinese “police service stations” in the UK—in Croydon, Glasgow and Hendon. Further allegations have been made about an additional site in Belfast.

These reports alleged that, while these “police service stations” are officially set up in countries across the world to conduct administrative tasks to support Chinese nationals residing abroad, they are also used to monitor and harass diaspora communities and, in some cases, to coerce people to return to China outside of legitimate channels.

The police have visited each of the locations identified by Safeguard Defenders, and carefully looked into these allegations to consider whether any laws have been broken and whether any further action should be taken. I can confirm that they have not, to date, identified any evidence of illegal activity on behalf of the Chinese state across these sites. We assess that police and public scrutiny have had a suppressive impact on any administrative functions that these sites may have had.

However, these “police service stations” were established without our permission and their presence, regardless of whatever low-level administrative activity they were performing, will have worried and intimidated those who have left China and sought safety and freedom here in the UK. This is unacceptable.

The Chinese authorities regularly criticise others for what they see as interference in their internal affairs, yet they felt able to open unattributed sites without consulting the UK Government. It is alleged that this was a pattern repeated around the world.

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has told the Chinese embassy that any functions related to such “police service stations” in the UK are unacceptable and that they must not operate in any form. The Chinese embassy has subsequently responded that all such stations have closed permanently. Any further allegations will be swiftly investigated, in line with UK law.

I hope that this clarifies what we know about these alleged “police service stations” and the action that we have taken. The 2023 Integrated Review Refresh makes it clear that we want to engage and partner with China on key issues where it is in our national interest to do so. However, the UK will always put national security first.

Let me be clear: any attempt by any foreign power to intimidate, harass or harm individuals or communities in the UK will not be tolerated. This is an insidious threat to our democracy and fundamental human rights. That is why I asked the Defending Democracy Taskforce to review the UK’s approach to trans-national repression to ensure that we have a robust and joined-up response across Government and law enforcement. Understanding and combating this kind of interference is a key pillar of our taskforce’s efforts.

The National Security Bill, now in its final stages, represents the biggest overhaul of state threats legislation in a generation, and will drastically improve our tools to deal with the full range of state threat activity, regardless of where it originates. The Bill contains provisions that will leave those seeking to coerce, including through threats of violence, for, or with the intention to benefit, a foreign state liable to prosecution in a way that they currently are not. Those convicted could face up to 14 years in prison. I urge Parliament to quickly pass the Bill so that its powers can be used to clamp down on foreign interference and trans-national repression.

I look forward to working closely with this House to further protect our democracy.