BEIJING (AP) — China on Friday accused Canada of smearing its reputation over allegations China is secretly operating two overseas police stations in Quebec.

Canada should “stop sensationalizing and hyping the matter and stop attacks and smears on China,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said at a daily briefing.

“China has been … strictly abiding by international law and respecting all countries’ judicial sovereignty,” Mao said.

The spokesperson did not comment on the existence of the police stations or whether they were operated by Chinese government authorities.

Canadians of Chinese origin have been victims of activities carried out by the stations, Sgt. Charles Poirier of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said Thursday.

Canada will not tolerate any type of intimidation, harassment or targeting of diaspora communities, Poirier said.

The RCMP’s Integrated National Security Team has opened investigations into the suspected police stations in Montreal and Brossard, a suburb just south of the city, he said.

The Spanish human rights organization Safeguard Defenders says China has scores of such stations across the globe, including in the U.K. and the U.S.

In a report last September, it said the stations were used to “harass, threaten, intimidate and force targets to return to China for persecution.”

The Chinese Foreign Ministry has previously described the foreign outposts as service stations for Chinese people who are abroad and need help with bureaucratic tasks such as renewing their Chinese driver’s licenses. Such citizen services are normally performed by an embassy or consulate.

Beijing has launched dual multi-year campaigns to bring suspects wanted mostly for economic crimes back to China, but says its agents overseas operate in line with international law. U.S. authorities say that has not always been the case.

The outposts have fueled global concerns that the ruling Chinese Communist Party is seeking control over its citizens abroad, often by using threats against their families and welfare, while undermining democratic institutions overseas and gathering economic and political intelligence.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly said Thursday concerns over foreign interference were behind Canada’s refusal to issue a diplomatic visa to a political operative for China last fall.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the presence of Chinese police stations in Canada “concerns us enormously.”

“We’ve known about the (presence of) Chinese police stations across the country for many months, and we are making sure that the RCMP is following up on it and that our intelligence services take it seriously,” Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa.

Canada-China relations nosedived in 2018 after China jailed two Canadians on allegedly trumped-up charges shortly after Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of technology giant Huawei and the daughter of the company’s founder, on a U.S. extradition request.

They were sent back to Canada in 2021 on the same day Meng returned to China after reaching a deal with U.S. authorities in her case.

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