Utah senators urge Justice Department probe of Chinese Service Centers

Jul 10, 2023, 9:30 PM | Updated: Jul 11, 2023, 11:26 am

overseas chinese service centers utah chinatown location...

A “now hiring” sign at the Chinatown Supermarket in South Salt Lake is pictured on Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021. The same location hosts the Utah Chinese Civic Center, home to an Overseas Chinese Service Center, named in a letter from US senators as deserving scrutiny from the Justice Department. (Scott G. Winterton/Deseret News)

(Scott G. Winterton/Deseret News)

SOUTH SALT LAKE, Utah — A Utah facility, one of several Overseas Chinese Service Centers meant to help Chinese citizens access government services while overseas, is under scrutiny after a letter from 10 Republican senators was sent to the Justice Department.

The senators are demanding the Justice Department investigate the facility and six similar centers as possible fronts for intelligence-gathering.

Utah facility named with Chinese Service Centers under fire

Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney, both R-Utah, signed the letter along with eight other Republicans. In it, they pointed to a recent report from the partisan news site, Daily Caller, about the Overseas Chinese Service Centers in seven states.

That report, published in June, described the centers as “quietly” operated by a “Chinese intelligence agency” and in “contact with Beijing’s national police authority.” The Daily Caller cited its own review of Chinese government records and reporting in Chinese state-run media in its story. 

“According to this report, OCSCs are run by the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) United Front Work Department (UFWD), which the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission has identified as a ‘Chinese intelligence service’ in its annual report to Congress,” the senators wrote in their letter. “The Department of Justice (DOJ) has warned that [the Ministry of Public Service] conducts covert ‘intelligence and national security operations far beyond China’s borders,’ including ‘illicit, transnational repression schemes’ on U.S. soil.” 

The Utah facility in question is the Utah Chinese Civic Center. It is located at 3390 S. State Street in South Salt Lake. It is just off 3300 South in the city’s Chinatown Market shopping center.  Several other businesses and restaurants call the location home – none of them face any scrutiny or accusations from the senators. 

OCSCs in the spotlight

Back in April, the FBI arrested two men in New York accusing them of targeting Chinese nationals with a police operation out of a community center. The government’s case centers on allegations that the men ran that facility on behalf of China’s Ministry of Public Security, targeting and repressing Chinese citizens. Specifically, the men were accused of spying on Chinese nationals living in the U.S. 

At the time, one of the charges involving the New York center alleged that it never registered with the U.S. State Department as agents of a foreign government. 

“Further, the ongoing discovery of additional OCSCs raises the question of whether DOJ’s response sufficiently addresses the threat, particularly because OCSCs have openly operated for several years and their activities have been reportedly documented in Chinese state media and social media posts,” the senators wrote.

They continued: “The DOJ must ensure that our adversaries such as the CCP are not operating intelligence operations or engaging in repression on U.S. soil.” 

The senators’ letter, addressed to US Attorney General Merrick Garland, asks the Justice Department to brief the senators by the end of July on a number of questions. Those questions include whether any of the seven centers conducts illegal activity, what action the government is taking, and whether there are additional centers or facilities they are aware of. 

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Utah senators urge Justice Department probe of Chinese Service Centers