China denies it has police stations in Netherlands amidst probe

China's foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian speaks during a news conference in Beijing, China March 18, 2022. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

BEIJING, Nov 2 (Reuters) - China's foreign ministry said on Wednesday that offices set up in the Netherlands were not police stations but rather centres to help Chinese citizens renew documents, a day after the Dutch government ordered their closure amidst a probe into their activities.

The Dutch government announced last week it would investigate whether the offices had been operating illegally on behalf of Beijing, following reports by RTL Nieuws and website "Follow The Money" that two such sites had carried out functions, including remotely renewing Chinese citizens drivers' licences without official diplomatic status.

That followed allegations, denied by the Chinese embassy in The Hague, that one of the offices had also harassed a Chinese dissident living in the Netherlands.

On Tuesday the Dutch foreign minister, Wopke Hoekstra, tweeted that "since no permission" had been sought from the Netherlands for the opening of these offices, the Dutch foreign ministry informed the Chinese ambassador that they must close.

When asked about the Dutch probe and if China notified the Netherlands about the stations Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian dismissed the allegations.

"The organisations you mentioned are not police stations or police service centres," Zhao told a regular briefing in Beijing on Wednesday.

"Their activities are to assist local Chinese citizens who need to apply for expired driver's license renewal online, and activities related to physical examination services by providing the venue," Zhao added.

"The volunteer service staff are enthusiastic overseas Chinese there, not Chinese police officers. We hope that the parties concerned do not make unreasonable claims."

Authorities in Germany are also investigating whether China maintains an illegal extraterritorial police station in Frankfurt, a German government spokesperson said last week.

The German probe aimed to check a report by Spanish activist group Safeguard Defenders, who said China had set up undeclared police offices in 30 countries, including Germany, a German interior ministry spokesperson said.

"The Chinese public security authorities strictly observe international law and fully respect the judicial sovereignty of other countries," foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said in response to a question asking about Chinese police stations abroad.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz is due to visit Beijing this Friday.

Last month a man who was protesting outside a Chinese consulate in Manchester, northern England, said he was dragged inside the grounds by masked men.

China disputed the account of events which took place during a demonstration against President Xi Jinping, saying protesters had stormed its grounds.

Reporting by Liz Lee and Martin Quin Pollard, Editing by Alexandra Hudson

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