Undeclared abroad CCP networks. According to a new report by Safeguard Defenders, a human rights NGO, Chinese embassies and consulates have been employing “consular volunteers” in countries around the world. These networks, acting as an extension of their operation, were apparently not disclosed to most host nations, Italy included.
- These systems reportedly consist of associations and individuals linked to the United Front and bear the marks of the involvement of the Office of Overseas Chinese Affairs, which Canada recognised as an espionage operation in 2022.
Why it matters. “The consolidation of overseas United Front networks as the providers of services such as consular community assistance may not only give them potential broad access to individuals’ private data, home addresses, and contact information but may also dangerously enhance their function of control over overseas communities and dissenters,” reads the report.
- Speaking at the Third Symposium of Consular Assistance Volunteers held at the Chinese Embassy in Italy last year, Guo Lin, Minister Counsellor for Consular Affairs, said he hoped that all volunteers would remain “true to their original aspirations, think of the motherland, care for their compatriots, and contribute deepening Sino-Italian exchanges, building a ‘Great Wall of Consular Protection’ and realising a Chinese security system abroad.”
Looks like a recurring theme. These alleged networks are reminiscent of the “shadow Chinese police stations” that have come under the scrutiny of several Western governments over the past months. In the wake of this, when they met in Hiroshima in May, G-7 leaders signed a declaration explicitly calling on China to respect the Vienna Conventions on consular relations.
- The Chinese State Council formalised the establishment of such networks in early September, just a few months after the G-7’s calls.
- Italian Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi has vowed to “personally monitor” this matter and did not exclude sanctions in case of illegal practices.