They are accused of hunting down Chinese opponents abroad. The UK government has ordered China to close clandestine "police stations" operating on its territory, which are supposed to offer administrative services but are accused of monitoring and pressuring critics of the regime.
The British Foreign Office "has notified the Chinese embassy that any function relating to such police stations in the UK is unacceptable and should not operate under any circumstances," Security Secretary Tom Tugendhat said in a written statement to Parliament published on Tuesday. In response, Chinese authorities promised to close them, according to the secretary of state's statement.
Three or four positions in the UK
The presence of such antennas has been mentioned in the United Kingdom but also in France or the United States but China has always denied their existence. The UK Home Office and London police launched initial investigations after human rights group Safeguard Defenders documented the existence of the locations last year.
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There would be three or even four in the UK, Tugendhat said. He said police went to every suspicious location and "no illegal activity" was identified. "We believe that police and public surveillance has had an effect," the secretary of state said.
"However, these police stations were established without our permission and no matter how low the level of administrative activity carried out, they will have worried and intimidated those who left China to seek safety and freedom in the UK," he added.
In April, The Times newspaper published an article about Lin Ruiyou, a Chinese businessman with ties to the British Conservative Party, running a food delivery business in the South London borough of Croydon and also operating as an undeclared Chinese police station.
The Chinese embassy in London said at the time that it had already repeated "several times that there are no so-called police stations abroad" and criticized the dissemination of "false accusations".
After the "golden age" wanted by Prime Minister David Cameron in 2015, relations between London and Beijing have deteriorated significantly in recent years, due in particular to the repression of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, a former British colony, the fate of the Uighur Muslim minority and suspicions of espionage relating to the telecom equipment manufacturer Huawei.