Chinese police have appeared patrolling the streets in several European cities. They have appeared in cities like Paris, Rome, and Milan to protect and provide assistance to Chinese tourists.
However, while China claims that the presence of the officers is to provide assistance to Chinese tourists traveling abroad, many of the countries in which the officers are stationed are also closely tied to China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
Chinese officers were first sent to Rome in 2016, and they have since conducted several joint patrols with Italian police. The Chinese police were ordered to share information with local Italian police and provide assistance to Chinese citizens who need to report a crime. Since being deployed to Rome, Chinese police have also been sent to Milan and Venice.
Nearly three million Chinese vacation in Italy every year, and over 100 million Chinese citizens vacationing abroad in 2015. After Asia, Europe was the burgeoning Chinese middle class’s destination of choice. In 2015, Chinese tourists spent a total of $229 billion.
The first Chinese officers in Europe appeared in France in 2014. French President Francois Hollande struck a deal to allow Chinese officers on the streets of Paris to help foster goodwill with the millions of Chinese tourists who visit France every year. Chinese tourists are the second largest group of foreigners to visit the country after Americans, and they bring over $2 billion in revenue to the country annually. The Chinese officers were stationed near major tourist spots in Paris and permitted to aid Chinese citizens with small crimes like muggings, which Chinese media reported were on the rise in France and other European destinations frequented by Chinese tourists. The Chinese media also claimed that reported muggings of Chinese citizens were under-investigated by European police, hence needing the introduction of Chinese officers.
Chinese officers have also appeared in several countries in the Balkans. Two Chinese officers were sent to Belgrade, Serbia in September to offer a link between local Serbian police and the growing number of Chinese tourists. The Chinese officers have no powers to make arrests, according to the Serbian police, but they are stationed at major tourist attractions to help with translation between Chinese nationals and local law enforcement. They have also appeared in several cities in Croatia, including the country’s capital Zagreb. Croatia has partnered with several other countries in co-policing major tourist areas, beginning with Hungary in 2006, but Chinese tourists receive a few extra privileges. Chief among them are special telephone lines placed in tourist areas that connect directly to phones manned by Chinese officers.
With the exception of France, each of the European nations that now allow Chinese police to patrol the streets and handle law and order for Chinese citizens abroad are partners with the communist state in its Belt and Road Initiative.
The Belt and Road Initiative is a development and investment strategy implemented by China in 2013 that seeks to provide funding for infrastructure and investments to create closer economic ties between its partner countries and China. The Chinese government has loaned and invested over $1 trillion since 2013.
Critics of the plan have claimed that it is an attempt by China to increase its influence throughout the world by loaning money to small, poor nations that cannot easily pay back them back. In 2018, the Center for Global Development claimed that 23 countries, including Pakistan, Montenegro, Mongolia, and Laos, had a high level of risk of debt distress because of the loans from China under Belt and Road. Sri Lanka was forced to relinquish control of a strategic Indian Ocean port as part of a repayment settlement after Sri Lanka was unable to repay its loans.
Johannes Hahn, the EU commissioner responsible for overseeing the entry process of new EU states as well as EU relations with neighboring countries, has expressed concern that countries in the western Balkans have borrowed too heavily from China. “China never cares how and if a country is able to pay its loans. And if they cannot pay, there is some pressure that things are transferred into their ownership,” Hahn said.
Italy became the first G7 nation to join the initiative in March 2019. Italy signed dozens of different deals with China as part of the partnership, bringing in more than $2.8 billion in investments from China. (RELATED: Ukraine Plays Both Sides Of The U.S.-China Rivalry)
Chinese investment under the Belt and Road Initiative has been particularly felt in Balkan countries, including Serbia, where it has invested billions in railways, power plants, and roads using Chinese expertise. Chinese investments and construction projects in Serbia have totaled more the $8 billion. In total, sixteen eastern European countries have partnered with China under the Belt and Road Initiative and received billions of dollars in loans and investments from the Chinese.
Serbia has also partnered with Huawei, a Chinese technology company that has been accused by several government including the U.S. of using its technology to spy for the Chinese government, to create Safe City, a project in Belgrade that seeks to mount hundreds of surveillance cameras throughout the city equipped with facial-recognition software. (RELATED: STUDY: Leaked Huawei Resumes Reveal Extensive Ties To Chinese Intel Agencies)
In addition to its police agreement, Croatia signed six different cooperation deals after a summit with China in April 2019.
While cooperation among the police forces of European Union nations is common, the public presence of Chinese police forces in European cities is unprecedented. No other non-European countries are allowed to deploy police forces in European tourist destinations in order to assist and protect tourists.