Dutch police are investigating fake bomb threats and hotel reservations originating from China. According to a spokesperson, they are looking into multiple bomb threats in several European countries. The Chinese citizens who have been involved are convinced that the bomb threats are the work of the government in Beijing and are intended as a tactic to silence critics of the regime.
There have been multiple fake bomb threats originating from China made across Europe over the past year, according to a spokesperson from The Hague police. Numerous hotels were targeted. The police are not yet saying who is responsible or which hotels received such threats. “What we can say is that the threats were very likely made from IP addresses in China and Hong Kong.” The police declined to provide additional details about the investigation thus far.
One of the people who reported being the target of such a bomb threat is Wang Jingyu. Several of the fake bomb threats were made in his name.
He fled China in 2019 after expressing his support for the pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong. After traveling via several different countries, Wang ultimately applied for asylum in the Netherlands. Since he fled, he says that has been regularly harassed by the Chinese authorities. “If I post something on Twitter, the police show up at my house in China 20 minutes later”, Wang previously told De Volkskrant. The message from the Chinese police is always the same: things will end badly for his parents if he does not return to China.
Jingyu received a threatening message via Telegram, a chat app, in early October 2022, one day after doing an interview with RTL Nieuws about illegal Chinese police stations in the Netherlands. The messages addressed to Wang urged him to come to the Amsterdam Centraal train station. If he did not do so, the message said that a bomb threat would be made against the Chinese embassy in his name.
“Then I started receiving hotel reservations in my name, and a couple of hours later, the Chinese embassy called the police and said I had threatened them with a bomb”, he says. Jingyu says his name was also used to book hotel rooms and make bomb threats at Marriott hotels in the Netherlands and Belgium, among other countries and bookings, according to the report he filed with the police.
Jingyu recently tweeted that the Turkish General Directorate of Security, the Federal Criminal Police Office in Germany, and the Federal Bureau of Investigations in the United States are also investigating the false bomb threats. The Turkish authorities declined to comment, and the German police and the FBI both stated that their agencies can neither confirm nor deny specific investigations or proceedings.
In November, The Hague police contacted a Chinese PhD candidate in Groningen. “They wanted to know if I knew anything about a bomb threat, and if I had been in contact with Wang Jingyu. They also asked if I had booked a hotel room. But I didn’t know anything about it, and nothing was charged to my credit card. That wouldn’t have been possible anyway, because there was so little money in the account”, the woman says, who wishes to remain anonymous.
The PhD candidate from Groningen has become a subject of interest for the Chinese authorities, but not due to any protests or political activities. The investigation into her began several years after she filed reports to the police in the Netherlands and in China of allegedly being sexually assaulted by a Chinese professor in Groningen.
The instructor turned out to have been a member of the Provincial Ministry of Justice in Jiangsu province in China, as evidenced by a screenshot of an announcement on the website of the provincial ministry – the sort of government job which is often occupied by members of the Communist Party. “Immediately after he raped me, he started saying that he knew a lot of important people and said that bomb threats have been known to happen”, she says.
Since then, her call history shows that she has been called by unknown numbers, and when she answers, no one speaks on the other end. The Chinese police have also visited her parents in China, asking about their daughter’s social media accounts. One agent left a note with her parents where the words “Facebook” and “Twitter” were translated into Mandarin, with a phone number where her parents could contact the police.
She says that the parents of another Chinese friend of hers in Groningen were also interviewed by the police, and she alleges that her Telegram account was hacked. “I’m afraid that if I go back to China, I’ll definitely be arrested and possibly murdered.” The complaint she filed against her alleged assailant was closed by the Dutch Public Prosecutor (Openbare Ministerie) in April 2021, due to lack of evidence.
They are convinced that the bomb threats and hotel bookings are a tactic by the Chinese authorities to silence them and undermine their credibility. Tactics like this against dissidents or perceived critics could be used as a basis to lead to asylum requests being denied and deportation back to China.
“I think it was the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). They always make these kinds of threats. They want me to go back to China. That’s the reason”, Wang says. “This is what they do, I know it doesn’t make sense but they prosecute all the people who are against the Chinese Communist Party.”
Wang is not the only target of these fake bomb threats and hotel bookings. Su Yutong, a Chinese journalist living in Germany, has also been the victim of similar tactics. She fled China in 2010 after being kept under house arrest for distributing a banned book. “The Communist Party has booked hotels around the world in my name and then placed bomb threats at those hotels”, she tweeted in early February.
Yutong’s name was also used to book a hotel room in Hong Kong, followed by a bomb threat which was made, yet again, under Wang Jingyu’s name. “I’ve informed the police. The death threats and intimidation from the Communist Party have taken on a new dimension”, the journalist tweeted. Yutong declined to give any further comment on the story, citing an ongoing investigation in Germany.
This approach is not limited to Chinese nationals: the Australian activist Drew Pavlou was also accused of making a fake bomb threat to the Chinese embassy in London after protesting against Chinese human rights violations. “Last year, I was arrested in London while holding a peaceful protest – the Chinese Embassy falsely claimed I made a bomb threat using ProtonMail and got me locked up as a terror suspect”, Pavlou tweeted.
According to the activist, a fake email address with his name was used to send the bomb threat. “They were clearly trying to frame me. Nothing they do will intimidate me. These are petty mafia-style tactics”, Pavlou previously told Sky News. The British police have cleared Pavlou of charges in the case.
None of these individuals had any known prior connections to one another. But what they have in common is that they are all subjects of heightened scrutiny by the Chinese authorities, and they have all had false bomb threats associated with their names in some way.
“I don’t know these specific cases, but the tactics don’t surprise me”, says Sinologist and director of consultancy agency China Circle, Ardi Bouwers. According to Bouwers, the ultimate goal of the intimidation efforts is to promote a certain narrative about China and China’s position in the world, and to repress any stories that say anything different.
“It’s part of a massive propaganda campaign”, she says. “It’s focused in part on the international community, but more importantly, it’s really focused on the Chinese population. The number one priority for the Chinese authorities is China itself, much more than any other countries. That means that Chinese people in China cannot be allowed to be distracted by alternative narratives.”
It’s not only the Chinese authorities who are dedicated to the propaganda campaign: Chinese citizens across the world have been known to intervene if someone says something that is incompatible with the official Chinese narrative, Bouwers says.
“And that happens in all kinds of ways, not just on Chinese social media. It happens on Twitter, and I see it on LinkedIn too. The intention is to eventually just tire them out, to make those who are critical of China get fed up with it and grow tired of all the propaganda being aimed at them all the time, to get them to choose to just stop speaking out.” Putting the family members of perceived critics under pressure is also standard procedure, Bouwers says. “You hear those kinds of stories all the time.”
Bouwers says it is important that the police investigate these instances of intimidation. “The moment someone on Dutch soil is targeted with these kinds of coercive tactics, which are punishable offenses, then it’s necessary for them to be held accountable.”
The Chinese embassy in the Netherlands had not responded to requests for comment at the time of publication.
This article was conducted in collaboration with Traci White and Marcello Filibeck of The Northern Times.