No 'evidence of coercion' in Chinese police operations

Federal police facilitated agents from the Chinese Ministry of Public Security interviewing Australian residents, some of whom returned to China.

But the process that allowed it to happen is no longer being used following a "change in environment" and increased concerns about foreign interference, Australian Federal Police deputy commissioner Ian McCartney told senate estimates.

The ABC's Four Corners program reported in May agents from the Chinese Ministry of Public Security (MPS) came to Australia in 2019 with the AFP's permission to engage with a resident.

It was the last time the process allowing MPS agents to come to Australia and conduct recorded interviews with residents inside AFP offices was used, Mr McCartney said on Friday.

The AFP had been engaged in a "handful" of matters with the MPS, where people had then voluntarily returned to China between 2015 and 2019.

"This was not a forced repatriation, and we were not involved in that process," he said.

"We don't want Australia to be a safe haven for criminals," he said.

The AFP facilitated meetings with six Chinese nationals, five of which subsequently returned, while one declined and stayed in Australia.

Three of the five people voluntarily returned to China have since come back to Australia, Mr McCartney said.

One person received a short prison sentence while another's case was now being dealt with as a civil matter.

"Both those people are in their community," he said.

The AFP's engagement with the MPS had cut both ways.

"MPS has on a number of occasions facilitated the AFP to travel to China and speak to both witnesses and suspects," Mr McCartney said.

A recent assessment of the 2019 incident by ASIO and the AFP had ruled it was not an act of foreign interference, the senate committee heard.

Senator James Paterson asked whether people may have been coerced into returning.

"This is a secret police force of an authoritarian state," he said.

Mr McCartney said he was satisfied there was no evidence of coercion.

"All I can say is, in terms of our engagement we didn't identify any evidence of coercion," he said.

Senator David Shoebridge said the AFP adopted a "don't look, don't see" policy.

Mr McCartney said they had spoken to people before and after their engagement with Chinese authorities.

"We clarified and satisfied ourselves that they were there willingly and wanting to speak to MPS," Mr McCartney said.