Italy has the highest number of unofficial Chinese ‘police stations’ out of a network of more than 100 around the world, a report claims. The northern Italian city of Milan was allegedly used by two local Chinese public security authorities as a European testing ground. Other newly identified stations were in Croatia, Serbia and Romania, it said.
China has said the offices are merely ‘service stations’ set up to assist Chinese citizens with bureaucratic procedures such as renewing a passport or driving licence. Civil rights group Safeguard Defenders has accused China of using unofficial police stations in Italy to ‘harass, threaten, intimidate and force targets to return to China for persecution’. The group says it has evidence of intimidation – as opposed to the official channel of extradition – being used to force people home from Italy.
Some of those forced home included targets in Operation Fox Hunt, a campaign set up by the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, to pursue corrupt officials. Italy is fertile ground for potential Beijing influence owing to agreements signed between the two countries. The tourist-assisting squad made its debut in Italy in 2016, and now has offices in all three cities. In 2018, shortly after the police patrol deal was reinforced, Qingtian public security also set up a ‘pilot’ office in Milan.
Giorgia Meloni, the current prime minister of Italy, had a strong anti-China stance before to entering office in October. Although it has the most liaison outposts on its territory, the Italian government is one of the few in Europe that has not yet openly initiated an inquiry into or proclaimed the illegality of Chinese foreign police stations, according to the research.
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