Parliament debates Chinese police activity in Europe: Hungary’s case

© European Union 2024 - Source : EP-167744G Photographer: Philippe BUISSIN
"The fact that Chinese police officers will soon begin patrolling in Hungary is foreign meddling in EU affairs, and a significant risk to EU security. The Commission must have a forceful answer,” MEP Katalin Cseh said.

A summit on law enforcement between China and Hungary took place in Budapest on Friday, February 16. During the summit, Interior Minister Sándor Pintér held talks with Wang Xiaohong and signed agreements allowing Chinese police officers to accompany their Hungarian counterparts on joint patrols in several locations across Hungary, which is a member of the EU. 

This agreement immediately drew a reaction from Sophie in ‘t Veld, MEP of the Renew Group, who formally asked whether the European Commission was aware of it and whether there had been any reactions from EU institutions to Hungary’s decision. 

On April 10, MEPs discussed the extent of Chinese law enforcement activities in Europe with the Council and Commission.

“While the EU has started to address the threat of authoritarian interference— it remains blind to interference originating from our very own authoritarian member states. The fact that Chinese police officers will soon begin patrolling in Hungary is foreign meddling in EU affairs and a significant risk to EU security. The Commission must have a forceful answer,” Katalin Cseh (Momentum, Hungary), initiator of the debate in the European Parliament, said.

In a press release ahead of the debate, the Renew Europe group warned that “The Hungarian government’s invitation to Chinese police officers to patrol in Hungary poses a threat to European security and, in particular, the freedoms of Europe’s Chinese diaspora.” 

Renew Europe MEPs demanded that the Commission urgently assess whether the foreign police activity aligns with the EU’s standards for the rule of law, security, and protection of minorities. 

They explained that as the Chinese Communist Party has a track record of surveilling its citizens abroad, Renew Europe MEPs fear that the authorities in Beijing will use the occasion to keep tabs on their diaspora living in Europe in an attempt to silence dissidents. 

“The Hungarian government must clarify what role they will have and which powers they will possess,” they said.

A dangerous agreement

Hungary’s relationship with its EU and NATO allies has deteriorated lately. In contrast, the Chinese government has offered to deepen its security cooperation with Hungary under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The Chinese Minister of Public Security seeks to work with Hungary on counter-terrorism, combating transnational crimes, and law enforcement capacity building. The Hungarian Prime Minister praises the strong ties between Hungary and China.

It’s unusual for a member of the EU and NATO to strengthen security cooperation with China. However, Hungary has close ties with both China and Russia. Last year, Hungary’s Prime Minister attended the Beijing BRI forum, showing the country’s strong relationship with China. China’s electric vehicle manufacturer BYD has also announced plans to open its first European production factory in Hungary.

In addition, Hungary delayed ratifying Sweden’s NATO application while Hungarian officials refused to meet with visitors from Washington in mid-February. 

Do Chinese police officers walk with us?

It’s worth noting that Chinese police officers have patrolled EU territory before. China has been promoting “extradition treaties” alongside the BRI with some EU member states for years. 

Spain, France, and Italy are among the EU countries that have signed such agreements with China in the past decade. Some non-governmental organisations have pointed out the existence of “unofficial Chinese police stations” in various EU member states, raising concerns that China is using these stations to harass and suppress Chinese dissidents living abroad. These outposts are believed to have targeted dissidents, democracy and national activists, Uyghurs and Tibetans, human rights defenders from mainland China and Hong Kong, and Taiwanese citizens. China used these extradition treaties to send hundreds of red notices to Interpol. Moreover, the Chinese secret services have committed several kidnappings in many EU countries. 

Some EU countries that have signed agreements with China have cooperated in advancing China’s requests. For example, the Spanish government deported 218 Taiwanese citizens to China in July 2019. Italy signed a police cooperation agreement in 2016, which allowed Chinese police agents to patrol tourist places such as Rome or Florence and areas with a significant Chinese population, such as Prato’s industrial city. Fortunately, Italy withdrew from the BRI in Autumn 2023, preventing China from exerting a tight grip on it. 

Several EU member states now recognise how dangerous China is to their freedom and are taking action accordingly. The European Commission also recognised such a threat, and the European Parliament debated on the issue. However, Hungary is doing the opposite, adding additional risk to EU security.

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