The Government has launched a multi-agency probe into the possible existence of an offshore Chinese police centre in New Zealand.
It comes after a major investigative report from human rights watchdog Safeguard Defenders that claimed Beijing was using a global network of more than a hundred police stations around the world to intimidate and force its targets to return to China.
According to the report, the centres are part of a massive fugitive campaign to persuade those accused of fraud and related crimes to return to China.
However, authors allege many not accused of crimes have been caught up and the authors have documented illicit methods to harass, threaten, intimidate and force people to return.
Madrid-based Safeguard Defenders identified 102 of these police service centres across 53 countries.
The human rights organisation alleges there is a New Zealand-based station run by the Nantong security bureau from the Jiangsu province as part of this network. The exact location is unknown.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she had received no indications that was the case but had now asked for a briefing.
She said if it were brought to her attention, they would need to act on that.
It has been confirmed to NZME that NZ Police, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) and Ministry of Foreign Affairs are looking into the allegation.
DPMC national security group deputy chief executive Tony Lynch said they were aware of the report and officials from relevant agencies were reviewing the information.
National foreign affairs spokesman Gerry Brownlee said New Zealand’s police authorities should be probing the issue. He said it was a “serious allegation” and the Government needed to be looking into it.
Green Party democracy spokeswoman Golriz Ghahraman said it was a vindication for many Chinese-born Kiwis, who claimed this kind of surveillance was happening.
She said people of both minority and mainland Han Chinese background had been warning about exactly this kind of surveillance.
Beijing has previously rejected the allegations. The Herald has approached the Chinese Embassy in Wellington for comment.
Its Ministry of Foreign Affairs told CNN in November: “We hope that relevant parties stop hyping it up to create tensions. Using this as a pretext to smear China is unacceptable.”
Chinese authorities have claimed the stations, sometimes called “contact points”, are administrative hubs and provide services to citizens abroad, such as renewing national identification cards, passports and driver’s licences.
It has also said offices were a response to the Covid-19 pandemic, which had locked many citizens out of China.
But Safeguard Defenders say overseas police offices could also be targeting dissidents and compelling people to return to China, where they could face potentially politicised trials.
Safeguard Defenders uses open-source, official Chinese documents and accounts for evidence of alleged human rights abuses.
Safeguard Defenders Campaign director Laura Harth said they came across the police networks while assessing the scale of China’s efforts to persuade some of its people to return to China even against their will.
They say this could number almost a quarter of a million people around the world.
Harth said it severely violates territorial and judicial sovereignty - and most of the concerned countries have launched investigations into the stations.
A previous report by the organisation in September saw many investigations and already 13 countries have stated the stations were illegal under international law.
Ireland has shut down the Chinese police station found on its territory, while the Netherlands, which has taken similar measures, has a probe underway, as does Spain.
A centre has also been identified in Sydney, Australia. Media outlet ABC discovered an official “contact point” had been established in Sydney by the Department of Public Security in the Chinese city of Wenzhou in 2018.