A recently unsealed indictment in the United States alleges that Beijing’s overseas campaign to put pressure on Chinese nationals to return and face criminal charges in the People’s Republic China includes enforcement efforts on Canadian soil.
These U.S. accusations have come to light about six weeks after Spain-based human rights group Safeguard Defenders alleged three of China’s more than 50 overseas police stations are operating in Toronto. China’s embassy in Canada has denied this.
A document made public in a Brooklyn, N.Y., court, lays out the potential case of foreign interference and accuses seven Chinese nationals of conducting a campaign of harassment and surveillance against a U.S. resident from China. It also alleges the Chinese government co-ordinated some of this from Toronto.
It describes how a Chinese national residing in Canada was in 2018 pressed into returning China to face charges “despite initially not wanting to go back.”
The indictment says in July this year, Quanzhong An, one of the Chinese nationals charged in this case, suggested to the son of the Chinese citizen being targeted that he travel to Canada from the United States to discuss the matter.
The name of the Chinese national being pressed to return to China is not revealed in the indictment, which refers to him as John Doe-1. It said he resides in New York and is accused by the Chinese government of embezzling the equivalent of nearly $380,000 in public funds in China.
Mr. An, the court document says, “offered for People’s Republic of China leadership working on the case to come meet John Doe-1 in Toronto, Canada.”
He “emphasized the desire of the PRC team to meet with John Doe-1 to reach an agreement.”
Mr. An, the U.S. alleges, was acting at the behest of a provincial wing of China’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, an organization that is supposed to combat corruption.
It works hand in hand with China’s Operation Fox Hunt, an effort under way since 2014 that is supposed to target corruption, but as David Vigneault – the director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service – said last year, “is also believed to have been used to target and quiet dissidents to the regime.”
In the course of trying to persuade this man to return to China, Beijing’s proxies in the United States this July suggested he talk to a Chinese national residing in Vancouver who was previously in the same situation, the court document said. This individual, whom the indictment calls the “Canadian victim” of a pressure campaign by the Chinese government, had been unwilling to return to China but eventually went back and their matter had been resolved.
Mr. An arranged for the Vancouver man to talk to Mr. John Doe-1′s son this August. The conversation, the court documents say, was “lawfully recorded” by authorities. “The Canadian victim confirmed that he was neither detained nor mistreated while in the PRC, and he returned to Canada after the verdict. He indicated that the case was closed in the PRC and that no one had bothered him subsequently.”
Akshay Singh, a research associate for the University of Ottawa’s Centre for International Policy Studies, said the U.S. indictment documents how China successfully forced someone to leave Canada and return to China. “This is clearly foreign interference. We’re talking about a foreign government threatening somebody based in Canada.”
He said China is acting brazenly with disregard for foreign law and sovereignty when it does this. “Clearly they think they can do this and get away with it,” he said.
The Chinese embassy in Canada, asked whether there are overseas Chinese police stations on Canadian soil, denied this. It said governments in China have however set up “service stations” in Canada to help its citizens process paperwork and Chinese drivers’ licences.
“Due to the COVID-19 epidemic, many overseas Chinese citizens are not able to return to China in time for their Chinese driver’s licence renewal and other services,” the Chinese embassy in Canada said in a statement.
“For services such as driver’s licence renewal, it is necessary to have eyesight, hearing and physical examination. The main purpose of the service station abroad is to provide free assistance to overseas Chinese citizens in this regard.”
The Chinese embassy said these offices abroad are staffed by volunteers, not Chinese police officers. “They are not involved in any criminal investigation or relevant activity.”
Mr. Singh said he’s also not sure Canada has adequate laws to prosecute foreign interference cases such as this where governments outside this country arrange for surveillance and harassment of residents here.
“Do we have the legal framework to effectively address foreign interference? I personally don’t think that’s the case.”