The U.S. Department of Justice unsealed two complaints on April 17 dealing with transnational repression by the Chinese government. The first complaint laid out allegations against 34 officers of China’s Ministry of Public Security for their part in a scheme of harassment against Chinese nationals living in the United States. The defendants were based in Beijing and allegedly made fake social media profiles to harass and intimidate Chinese dissidents and victims of Chinese government oppression, including a prominent Hong Kong democracy activist. As part of this scheme, the Chinese security agents engaged in disruptive activities that ranged from posting conspiratorial tweets to terrorizing a video-conference call aimed at commemorating the Tiananmen Square massacre by posting threats through the “chat” function. The second complaint charged two New York City residents with establishing a “secret police station” on behalf of the Ministry of Public Security and using it to surveil and harass pro-democracy activists and other Chinese dissidents.
The Department of Justice taking action against Chinese overseas police stations demonstrates an increasing commitment to combating transnational repression on the part of the United States government. While high-profile prosecutions by U.S. authorities in the past had typically focused on cases involving military or industrial espionage, the arrest of dozens of Chinese security agents for harassing overseas dissidents may indicate a slight shift in priorities to include issues that go beyond the scope of economic security or national security. A potential shift towards targeting known Chinese government security agents–rather than scientists and academics–may also help address concerns about racial profiling in the FBI and Department of Justice’s previous China-related investigations, which have previously come under harsh criticism from civil liberties organizations and Asian American activist groups.