Opinion | China’s long arm of dictatorship reaches into the United States

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What happens when a dictatorship sends its brutal law enforcement to intimidate or capture dissidents, journalists, activists, business leaders, members of minority ethnic groups and religious believers who live in a free and open democracy? No rule of law should tolerate such attacks. Yet they continue — especially those involving the long arm of Chinese repression, which often reaches deep into the United States.

While keeping a cap on free speech at home, Beijing sends operatives to the West to harass, intimidate, monitor and abduct those who have spoken out. This can include brazen attempts to kidnap people and bring them back to China, or the misuse of extradition procedures and the international law enforcement platform Interpol. Other dissidents are silenced by threatening relatives in China.

The Post’s Christian Shepherd reported on April 29 that activists and lawmakers in Europe and North America are sounding the alarm about China’s use of such coercive tactics. Beijing’s issuance of Interpol “Red Notices” asking for a suspect to be detained and returned to China has risen from around 30 a year to more than 200. Targets include not only political dissidents and business leaders. company, but also Uyghurs or Tibetans belonging to ethnic minorities. who fled repression in their country of origin. In 2002, Chinese agents arrested dissident and pro-democracy advocate Wang Bingzhang while he was visiting Vietnam; he remains in prison in China. The same goes for Gui Minhai, a Swedish citizen and Hong Kong bookseller and publisher whose volumes contained rumors about the private lives of Chinese leaders. In 2015, he was abducted from Thailand and brought back to China.

Shadowy agents often intimidate China overseas, demanding written pledges of obedience lest a relative be arrested or punished inside China. Such sneaky blackmail is terrifying to those on the receiving end. A 2021 study by Freedom House identified 31 countries that have targeted transnational repression at 79 host countries. The report documented more than 600 cases between 2014 and 2020 and found that 26 out of 31 countries also used non-physical methods of intimidation, such as spyware, online harassment and sending proxy threats. The report concludes: “China is waging the most sophisticated, comprehensive and comprehensive campaign of transnational repression in the world.” The other main perpetrators are Russia, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Rwanda.

A glimpse of China’s efforts in the United States came in March when the Justice Department brought charges against five people accused of “stalking, harassing and spying on American residents” on behalf of China’s secret police.

The US government has an uneven record in combating such activities. The Trump-era “China Initiative” against economic espionage and trade secret theft was an ill-advised flop and created a perception of anti-China bias. Any effort to stop transnational repression must avoid this. In a positive move, State Department human rights reports now highlight more cases of transnational repression. It is vital to prevent this ugly by-product of dictatorship from spreading through democratic nations that uphold the rule of law.

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