The United States is deeply concerned about the Chinese government setting up unauthorized ‘police stations’ in U.S. cities to possibly pursue influence operations, FBI Director Christopher Wray told lawmakers on Thursday.
Speaking during a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing, Wray said the FBI is “aware of the existence these stations.”
“I have to be careful about discussing our specific investigative work, but to me, it’s outrageous to think that the Chinese police would attempt to set up shop in New York, for example, without proper coordination,” the FBI director said.
The Chinese operation “violates sovereignty and circumvents standard judicial and law enforcement cooperation processes,” Wray said.
In September, the Spanish-based human rights watchdog Safeguard Defenders reported that China has set up at least 54 “overseas police service stations” around the world, including one in New York City and three in Toronto. The group said its list was based on official statements but the actual number may be higher.
While tasked with cracking down on Chinese-related illegal activities overseas, the police stations represent “the latest iteration in [China’s] growing transnational repression, where it seeks to police and limit political expression far beyond its own borders,” the report said.
The Chinese embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.
Chinese officials have repeatedly said the police service stations assist Chinese nationals overseas with routine matters such as renewing driver’s licenses, functions that would normally be handled by an embassy or consulate.
“Chinese public security authorities strictly observe the international law and fully respect the judicial sovereignty of other countries,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning was quoted as saying last month.
Asked by Republican Senator Rick Scott of Florida if the Chinese police had a “right” to operate on U.S. soil, Wray said the FBI was examining “the legal parameters of it” and had talked to the Justice Department and the Department of State about unsanctioned operations.
“I can tell you from an FBI director perspective, I’m deeply concerned about this, and I’m not going to just let it lie,” Wray said.