China’s US ‘police stations’ target Winnie the Pooh memes

Chinese Communist Party enforcers in their secret US network of police stations are ordered to harass dissidents, spy for plots to overthrow the regime – and to monitor derisive remarks about President Xi Jinping’s resemblance to Winnie the Pooh.

The Chinese police stations – two of them based in New York City – cooperate with the country’s diplomats to pressure dissidents, including pro-democracy demonstrators, to return to China where they face repression and imprisonment.

On Monday, two operatives were arrested by the FBI and accused of spying on Chinese nationals in New York, allegedly working from a Chinese “overseas service station” in Chinatown in Lower Manhattan whose existence was first revealed by The Post in October.

In addition to the Chinese police station above a noodle restaurant in Chinatown, The Post revealed Tuesday that there is another station at an undisclosed address in New York City, as well as outposts in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Houston, and in cities in Nebraska and Minnesota, according to a new report by non-profit Safeguard Defenders.

Now federal prosecutors are painting the most detailed picture of what goes on inside the police stations so far, including details of how Communist Party enforcers monitor social media for signs of perceived disrespect to China’s president-for-life.

Chinese president-for-life Xi Jinping has banned references to his resemblance to Winnie the Pooh. Now his country’s spies are using secret US “police stations” to look for people posting memes about him.

Winnie the Pooh
The Disney version of the classic children’s character is effectively banned in China.
Alamy Stock Photo

Including the arrests, a total of 44 alleged Chinese police operatives have been indicted this week, with the Department of Justice using the indictments to show how they tried to sow fear among Chinese Americans and particularly anti-CCP dissidents.

“The CCP’s ‘unapproved’ topics include discussions about the overthrow of the CCP’s control of the PRC government and the statuses of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and the Republic of China—commonly referred to as Taiwan—to remarks on CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping’s apparent resemblance to the fictional cartoon character Winnie the Pooh,” says one of the indictments, charging ten suspects who allegedly used fake social media accounts to intimidate dissidents.

Xi has been notoriously touchy about being compared to the Disney version of the classic children’s character, banning Chinese social media use of memes about the character, and having Disney’s Christopher Robin movie banned too.

Lu Jianwang walks into Brooklyn federal court
Lu Jianwang was one of the two alleged spies arrested Monday for allegedly harassing Chinese nationals in New York City. He appeared at federal court in Brooklyn Monday.

Monitoring for Pooh references is only the tip of the iceberg of the Chinese spies’ work, however, with much of their time spent on Operation Fox Hunt, a ruthless program to sweep up dissidents and get them back to China to face revenge.

In one of the indictments unsealed in Brooklyn federal court Monday, prosecutors describe an “elite task force” called the 912 Special Project Working Group which operates under the auspices of the Ministry of Public Security to target dissidents in the US.

The complaint alleges how members of the 912 Group created thousands of fake social media accounts to harass dissidents.

The fake accounts also spread government propaganda to work against the dissidents. Members of the 912 Group tracked the performance of their recruits and rewarded members who set up multiple accounts without being detected by social media companies, according to court papers.

In the case of Company-1, the US telecommunications company, Chinese operatives were instructed by their superiors in China to end online video chat meetings during which dissidents were planning events to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing, court papers say.

Xinjian Jin was named in a federal complaint earlier this week, for allegedly harassing Chinese dissidents in the US using a California telecommunications company. He and dozens of other suspects are believed to be at large, according to federal authorities
Xinjiang Jin was named in a federal complaint earlier this week, for allegedly harassing Chinese dissidents in the US using a California telecommunications company. He and dozens of other suspects are believed to be at large, according to federal authorities

The unnamed company, which ABC News identified as Zoom, citing federal sources, did business in China, and had to abide by strict terms of service regarding online discussions of politically sensitive topics, court papers say.

But those terms were also applied in the US as operatives “fabricated evidence of …violations [of the company’s terms of service] to provide pretextual justification for terminating the meetings,” court papers say. Accounts would also be suspended and cancelled, according to the complaint.

The harassment is linked to the Operation Fox Hunt program, set up in 2014 to forcibly return fugitives overseas accused of corruption back to China. The Chinese government set up the initiative after the country faced resistance from foreign governments to repatriate their citizens.

Among the operatives named in one of the federal indictments is Xinjiang Jin, head of security for the company in China between 2016 and 2020. Also known as Julien Jin, he was ordered to censor speech “disfavored by the PRC government and the Chinese Communist Party…occurring on the Company-1 communications platform,” court papers say.

Map of locations of Chinese police stations in the US
A nonprofit that previously exposed the Chinese “police station” busted by the FBI last week alleges there are more in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Houston, as well as in cities in Minnesota and Nebraska and a second NYC location.

In order to implement Operation Fox Hunt abroad, the Chinese government has recruited private investigators in the US to help them track down dissidents and others, according to recent federal indictments in the US.

In some cases, the private detectives offered their contacts in federal agencies wads of cash but they also got by with gifts of expensive cigars and a good bottle of tequila, according to a federal indictment against a former Department of Homeland Security official who allegedly cooperated with Chinese officials.

In New York, unregistered Chinese agents allegedly tried to smear pro-democracy hero of Tiananmen Square and Iraq war veteran Yan Xiong.

The pastor, a father of seven, ran in a Democratic primary for Congress in Brooklyn last year, and says that Chinese operatives prevented supporters to donate to his campaign and tried to discredit him by hiring a prostitute to ruin his political career. They also threatened to beat him so badly that he would have to bow out of the race, according to an indictment filed by the Department of Justice last year.

Yan Xiong
Yan Xiong, a hero of Tiananmen Square in 1989, lost his bid in a Democratic primary in Brooklyn last year after Chinese operatives allegedly harassed him and scuttled his campaign
Stephen Yang

The new federal indictments coupled with reports from Safeguard Defenders, a human rights group that discovered the presence of more than 100 Chinese police stations operating around the world last year, document a web of Chinese nationals being used to enforce the CCP’s totalitarian agenda around the world.

Chinese students who have moved abroad to study are even hired by the country’s Ministry of Public Security to spy on and harass their fellow citizens.

Safeguard Defenders say in their “Patrol and Persuade” report that CCP operatives take advantage of bilateral policing agreements, such as the one with Interpol, that allows police around the world to cooperate to track fugitives, to track dissidents for harassment around the world.

According to the non-profit, China has signed bilateral policing agreements with Romania, South Africa, Angola and Italy, among other countries. The Italian government is among a handful of European countries that has not yet publicly announced a probe of the Chinese overseas police stations. According to Safeguard Defenders, there are seven Chinese overseas police stations in Italy.

Protest outside Chinese police station in Lower Manhattan
Demonstrators protested against the presence of a Chinese police station in Manhattan’s Chinatown earlier this year
William Farrington

“The countries that have agreed to allow them to establish illegal police stations are totally scared of saying ‘no’ to China,” a source who has claimed Chinese harassment in the US told The Post Wednesday.

The report from the Madrid-based Safeguard Defenders says: “Some countries have explicitly agreed to their set up, and local law enforcement, as well as the Chinese embassies and/or consulates, closely cooperate with the stations in those locations.

“Safeguard Defenders and other organizations have frequently denounced the ongoing abuse of international policing cooperation mechanisms such as Interpol or the the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODOC) to both instill a wider sense of fear within dissident and other persecuted communities as well as to legitimize the PRC’s domestic judicial system despite its blatant violations of internationally recognized norms and standards,” the report says.

Chinese operatives working abroad also use “a combination of persuasion, intimidation and harassment” that center on warnings that family members will be arrested in China unless the fugitive returns. They also engage in state-sanctioned kidnapping “which also includes covert cooperation with host country forces to trick the target into heading to a third country where they can be extradited or simply handed over to Chinese agents for deportation without due process,” according to “Involuntary Returns,” a report from Safeguard Defenders.