Two US citizens, Lu Jianwang and Chen Jinping, have been arrested for allegedly operating a Chinese “secret police station” in Manhattan’s Chinatown district. The arrests are part of the Department of Justice’s crackdown on Beijing’s alleged targeting of dissidents, which involves probes into what it calls “transnational repression”. The two individuals face charges of conspiring to act as agents of China’s government without informing US authorities and obstruction of justice. The New York operation was used for government services, including helping some Chinese citizens renew their driver’s licenses, but prosecutors also allege that it was used for more “sinister” activities.
This crackdown on transnational repression also involves probes into alleged harassment and surveillance campaigns against dissidents living in the US. The US government has charged 34 Chinese officials with operating a “troll farm” and harassing dissidents online, including disrupting their meetings on US technology platforms. Additionally, eight Chinese government officials were added as defendants in a case announced in 2020, charging a former China-based executive of Zoom Video Communications with disrupting video meetings commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.
The arrests and probes have sparked a response from the Chinese embassy in the US. A spokesperson for the embassy, Liu Pengyu, has called the charges against Chinese citizens under the pretext of “transnational repression” a form of “sheer political manipulation”. However, Breon Peace, the top federal prosecutor in Brooklyn, has stated that the US cannot and will not tolerate the Chinese government’s persecution of pro-democracy activists who have sought refuge in the country.
The arrests come after a 2022 investigation by Safeguard Defenders reported that China had set up overseas “service stations,” including in New York, that illegally worked with Chinese police to pressure fugitives to return to China. FBI Director Christopher Wray has previously expressed concern about the presence of such stations in US cities.
Lu and Chen, both US citizens, led a non-profit organization that listed its mission as providing a social gathering place for people from China’s Fujian province. The men’s New York operation occupied a full floor in a building in Chinatown near the Manhattan Bridge before it closed in the fall of 2022. In 2022, Lu helped open the so-called police station and was asked by China’s government to locate an individual living in California who was considered a pro-democracy activist, according to prosecutors. In 2018, Lu had sought to persuade an individual considered a fugitive by China to return home.
Prosecutors say Lu and Chen admitted to the FBI that they deleted their communications with a Chinese government official. Following an initial appearance in Brooklyn federal court, they were released on bond.
n the case of Lu Jianwang and Chen Jinping, prosecutors said that Lu helped open the so-called police station in 2022 and was asked by the Chinese government to locate a pro-democracy activist living in California. In 2018, Lu had also attempted to persuade an individual considered a fugitive by China to return home.
During the investigation, Lu and Chen admitted to deleting their communications with a Chinese government official, according to prosecutors. The men were released on bond following an initial appearance in Brooklyn federal court.
Lu and Chen were leading a nonprofit organization that lists its mission as providing a social gathering place for people from China’s Fujian province, according to prosecutors. The organization occupied a full floor in a building in Chinatown near the Manhattan Bridge until it closed in the fall of 2022.
The Chinese government has denied the existence of secret police stations, claiming that there are centers outside China run by local volunteers that offer services such as renewing documents to Chinese citizens.
The Department of Justice has been ramping up its efforts to investigate and prosecute cases of transnational repression by US adversaries such as China and Iran. The department has been working with other US government agencies, including the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, to identify and disrupt these activities.
In recent years, the Chinese government has faced criticism from human rights groups and Western governments over its treatment of political dissidents and minority groups, including the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang.
The US and China have been locked in a bitter rivalry that has included trade disputes, diplomatic spats, and accusations of human rights abuses. The Biden administration has signaled a tougher stance on China, including on issues such as intellectual property theft, cyber espionage, and human rights.
The arrests of Lu Jianwang and Chen Jinping are the latest in a series of cases aimed at cracking down on what the US government calls China’s efforts to intimidate and silence its critics overseas. The charges against the Chinese officials operating the troll farm and disrupting video meetings commemorating the Tiananmen Square protests are also part of this broader effort.
The US has long been a destination for political dissidents fleeing persecution in their home countries. The arrests of Lu and Chen signal that the US will not tolerate attempts by foreign governments to target these individuals on American soil.
The case against Lu Jianwang and Chen Jinping highlights the growing tensions between the US and China over issues such as human rights and democracy. The US government’s crackdown on transnational repression is likely to continue, as it seeks to protect the rights of political dissidents and minority groups around the world.