Two New York residents have been arrested and charged after allegedly running an illegal Manhattan police station for the Chinese government.
The pair face federal charges of operating the undeclared outpost in the Chinatown neighbourhood and conspiring to act as agents for Beijing, said the US attorney for the eastern district of New York.
The case is part of a wider effort by the Justice Department to crack down on Chinese government attempts to harass dissidents and stifle free speech in the US, officials added.
It comes as a complaint was filed in Washington against 34 members of Beijing’s Municipal Public Security Bureau, and another against a group of 10 people including eight Chinese government officials, NBC New York reported.
The common thread in the three complaints was that the suspects allegedly worked to intimidate, harass and threaten ‘wanted’ Chinese nationals inside the US.
The bureau said last November it was aware that China was running a de facto police station in Manhattan, outside of proper procedure or authority, as part of a global network of such outposts.
In the autumn of 2022, FBI counterintelligence agents searched the outpost’s offices, located on the third floor of a nondescript building on East Broadway, the New York Times reported.
FBI director Christopher Wray has said the US was deeply concerned about the Chinese government setting up unauthorised ‘police stations’ in American cities linked to Beijing’s influence operations.
China’s embassy in Washington responded by acknowledging the existence of volunteer-run sites in the US, but said they were not “police stations” or “police service centres”.
“They assist overseas Chinese nationals who need help in accessing the online service platform to get their driving licences renewed and receive physical check-ups for that purpose,” embassy spokesman Liu Pengyu said.
“They are not police personnel from China. The US side should stop the groundless hyping of this issue,” he added.
The raid followed an investigation in September 2022 by a non-governmental organisation called Safeguard Defenders which reported there were dozens of such centres worldwide carrying out police operations.
There are growing tensions between Washington and Beijing, particularly over the island of Taiwan, which China sees as its own territory, while the Taiwanese government rejects its claims.
Last week, the Chinese government carried out military drills to express anger at Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s meeting with US Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California, viewing it as interference in its internal affairs.
There are also strains over the popular video-sharing app TikTok, owned by the Chinese tech company ByteDance, which has been banned on US government devices due to concerns over potential Chinese spying.
TikTok has been under intense scrutiny over worries it could hand over user data to China’s government or push pro-Beijing propaganda and misinformation on the platform. The firm rejects the claims.