Justice Department finally cracking down on Chinese 'secret police' station in NYC

Last October, we covered a disturbing story about the Chinese Communist Party setting up “secret police stations” in other countries. Australia raised the alarm about it first, but there was also one right in New York City, housed in the headquarters of the American Changle Association. 

At the time, I asked how that could possibly be legal and why we hadn’t done anything about it. A few Republicans in Congress were complaining, but nothing seemed to be happening. 

Now that’s changed. 

Two men have been arrested in New York as part of an ongoing Justice Department investigation into the covert police station. They announced separate charges against dozens of Chinese police officials over the harassment of Chinese ex-pats living in America.

From the Associated Press:

Two men have been arrested on charges that they helped establish a secret police outpost in New York City on behalf of the Chinese government, the Justice Department said Monday.

“New York City is home to New York’s finest: the NYPD,” U.S. Attorney Breon Peace, the top federal prosecutor in Brooklyn, said at a news conference announcing the arrests. “We don’t need or want a secret police station in our great city.”

Officials separately announced charges against more than three dozen members of China’s national police, accusing them of creating and using fake social media accounts to locate and harass dissidents in the United States.

Since the existence of the station was revealed last fall by the human-rights group Safeguard Defenders, Chinese officials have claimed that it was only used to renew the Chinese drivers’ licenses of people in the New York area. Over the course of their investigation, according to a criminal complaint unveiled Monday, federal law-enforcement agents found that the Chinese police outpost did do that — and more.

The two defendants in the case are Lu Jianwang, who also goes by Harry Lu, and Chen Jinping, both of whom have held various leadership roles in a New York–based group called the America ChangLe Association. That organization has portrayed itself as an independent club for immigrants from China’s Fujian province (ChangLe is a district in its city of Fuzhou). However, the association allegedly worked with Fuzhou’s public-security bureau to set up the police station in early 2022.

Lu, Chen, and additional America ChangLe members who have thus far avoided criminal liability have found themselves at the nexus of an alphabet soup of party influence networks and Chinese government bureaus.

Lu in particular, the criminal complaint explains, had a “longstanding relationship of trust” with the Chinese government, and, per his own admission to the FBI, he helped organize paid protests against Falun Gong practitioners at the behest of Chinese diplomats in 2015. The complaint also outlines a series of interactions with officials from the MPS and the Party’s United Front Work Department (UFWD) — the powerful party bureau that helps implement Beijing’s aims around the world.

While the very act of setting up a foreign government’s unauthorized police station is itself illegal, Lu is alleged to have gone even further than that, helping the MPS locate a Chinese dissident living in California and participating in a harassment campaign to force a Chinese fugitive to leave the U.S. and return to China. The case is centered on these efforts on behalf of the Chinese government, as well as alleged steps by Chen and Lu to destroy evidence and alleged lies to federal agents.

All of this should force a long-delayed reckoning with Chinese influence and interference efforts on U.S. soil, and it raises uncomfortable questions about Washington’s ability to strike back against such activities. Beijing regularly mobilizes purportedly independent front groups to advance its goals in America, as it recently did during demonstrations against Taiwan’s president several weeks ago in New York and Los Angeles.

But while law enforcement is catching up, and while the FBI and DOJ have acted admirably to confront this threat and Chinese transnational repression more broadly, it seems that the feds initiated their investigation only after the report by Safeguard Defenders. In other words, it possibly took a bunch of researchers based in Madrid to make the FBI aware that China had a police station in New York.

Disgracefully, local officials are often happy to look the other way. New York City mayor Eric Adams and other officials who should have known better attended the America ChangLe Association’s gala last fall.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration needs to stop pulling its punches when it comes to the Chinese Communist Party’s malign influence on U.S. soil.

While the State Department, in the waning days of the Trump administration, designated the National Association for China’s Peaceful Unification — a United Front group — as a Chinese government mission, therefore subjecting it to certain restrictions, the current team at Foggy Bottom has conspicuously declined to make further such designations.

In fact, Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s team has pulled back from even using the phrase “malign influence” to refer to Beijing’s activities. And not a single senior official at State or the White House has spoken publicly about the party’s United Front campaigns, even as they’ve otherwise worked to combat China’s harassment of people in the U.S.

Reports say that Blinken is eager to piece back together his plans to visit Beijing (the trip was postponed after the Chinese spy-balloon incident), but that the Chinese are unwilling to host him if Washington publicly releases its report on the spy balloon.

Instead, Blinken should order the expulsion of all Chinese diplomats based in the U.S. known to coordinate Beijing’s efforts with United Front groups. There’s precedent for this in the 2020 forced closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston over its persistent role in espionage campaigns.

Every American should want a better U.S. relationship with China. But the arrests made Monday are a reminder that sacrificing America’s national self-respect in return for friendlier relations with the CCP would be a terrible tradeoff.