The US Department of Justice busted civil servants in Chinatown, accusing them of being Beijing’s dissident hunters.
The US Department of Justice recently cracked down on a so-called “secret Chinese police station” in New York City, leading to the arrest of two men, both US citizens.
According to the charge sheets, the station had allegedly been involved in harassing “pro-democracy” activists. Further, the New York Post reported on Tuesday that more of these stations have been found in the US while a congressional subcommittee predictably used the incident to drive home the “China threat” to Americans.
Similar incidents have occurred in Europe, for example, where I live in the Czech Republic. In that instance, no one was arrested but there were allegations of a “secret Chinese police station.” The reality, as with the case of the supposed “station” in New York City was that it was a service set up by the Chinese government to help the local Chinese diaspora, many of whom don’t speak the local language, obtain basic functions like getting an ID or driver’s license.
Speaking from my own experience living abroad, I actually wish my own government had a similar program for its diaspora. After all, the Czech Republic was the home of the famous author Franz Kafka who wrote stories of nightmarish bureaucracies. That is indeed the case here (and I assume in most neighboring countries), and it is often hard to navigate alone. So, in this sense, I am actually quite jealous of the Chinese.
With the instance in New York City, it’s not even accurate to call it a “station” but rather two individuals contracted by the Chinese government to help the local diaspora in Chinatown. It should be emphasized that both of these people are American citizens and whatever political rallies they attended or whatever arguments they had with people online are protected under the first amendment to the US constitution.
Reports that are emerging from outlets like the New York Post are extremely alarmist, but provide little hard evidence to back up the claims that this Chinese “station” was engaged in harassment against “pro-democracy” folks. The NYP has a long and colorful history of such sensational reporting, along with its sister outlets owned by billionaire mogul and China hawk Rupert Murdoch. A cursory look at the DOJ’s complaint shows that the only real evidence the Feds have is that these guys shared memes, like tweets from pro-PRC accounts and deleted some texts. They are accused of a lot, such as running a “secret police station,” running politics interference and trying to coax a Chinese fugitive back to China. But not much backs these claims up in the complaint.
It should also be noted that, in the US, just because someone is charged with a crime doesn’t mean they’re guilty. This is one of the fundamentals of our criminal justice system. The DOJ has gotten it wrong many times on suspicions of wrongdoing by Chinese or China-linked individuals, including its now infamous “China Initiative” meant to probe economic espionage in US academic institutions. It eventually became a racist witch hunt and has since been shut down.
However, anyone who has recently been to Manhattan’s Chinatown will know that there’s a massive and deliberate cognitive war going on there. Every street corner features Epoch Times newsstands in Chinese, which is a radical far-right newspaper that spreads anti-Beijing misinformation and is owned by the extremist Falun Gong religious movement. There is also a cultural center with the old Republic of China flags displayed alongside the US flag.
The entire situation seems to be part of this cognitive war for the local diaspora. At issue is this: two US citizens who were doing what amounts to social work on behalf of the Chinese government for the Chinese diaspora in the US. Should they have registered as foreign agents? Perhaps. But the DOJ stepped in because of its inherent anti-China bias, blew the situation out of proportion. Since then the China hawk stenographers at the New York Post have been speculating non-stop about it and now the China hawks in Congress are rallying around it.
This could be easily chalked down to a misunderstanding if it weren’t so deliberate. To be sure, it’s unlikely that this is any sort of new behavior on Beijing’s part. The Chinese have probably been operating similar social services for many years now and the US authorities surely knew about it since they spy on everyone, all the time. But now that American politicians are looking for Beijing bogeymen under every bed, a lot has been made of this “secret police station” to propagandize the “China threat.”
Image credit: Peter Griffin