Is China pushing Interpol for more help fighting terrorism, corruption?
Xi Jinping to make opening speech as Beijing hosts general assembly of global police cooperation agency
China will push for greater international cooperation in the fight against corruption and terrorism when it hosts Interpol’s general assembly next week, according to diplomatic sources familiar with the matter, against a backdrop of concerns Beijing is using the body for its own goals.
Last year, the global police cooperation agency elected a senior Chinese public security official, Vice-Public Security Minister Meng Hongwei, as its president, prompting rights groups to ask whether China might try and use the position to go after dissidents abroad.
Beijing has tried for many years to enlist the help of foreign countries to arrest and deport Chinese citizens it accuses of crimes including corruption and terrorism.
The three Beijing-based sources, who are familiar with the planning for the Interpol meeting, said China was likely to make these two areas its focus for the general assembly.
Beijing has faced reluctance, in Western countries in particular, when it has asked for the repatriation of those wanted for alleged crimes in China. Governments and judiciary in these countries have been concerned that Beijing does not produce evidence acceptable for Western courts, and that defendants might be mistreated and not get a fair trial amid concerns that allegations can be politically motivated.
Western diplomats familiar with Chinese requests have said China sometimes misunderstands that in Western countries it needs to process its demands through the courts.
“They’re often quite surprised to hear that we can’t simply hand them over,” said one diplomat, who declined to be named given the sensitivity of the matter.
But China’s security officials have been working to understand the legal requirements of developed countries and international bodies so their requests for expedition become more palatable.
Beijing has also been attempting to build intelligence sharing relationships with Western countries in the fight against Islamist militants, diplomats shave said. China is itself battling what it says are Uygur extremists operating in its far western region of Xinjiang.
Speaking last week, Li Shulei, who leads China’s efforts to find and return those suspected of corruption who live abroad, called for a strengthened international anti-graft cooperation framework.
“We must build a new order to fight international corruption ... cut off escape routes for corrupt elements,” he told a meeting in Beijing.
China has given few details about Interpol’s general assembly, which is set to open in Beijing on Tuesday with a speech by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
On the question of Meng’s influence in Interpol, the diplomats said that the position was largely ceremonial. The Lyon, France-based agency said its Secretary General Jürgen Stock, a German national, was the organisation’s full-time chief official overseeing the day-to-day work of international police cooperation.
In 2014, China issued Interpol “red notices” for its 100 most wanted corruption suspects who have fled overseas as part of Xi’s sweeping campaign against corruption. Almost half have come back to China to date, some voluntarily, according to the government.
Interpol said red notices were requests to provisionally arrest suspects pending extradition, and were not international arrest warrants.
It was up to member states to act on Interpol red notices, and could be ignored if a government decided there was insufficient evidence, diplomats said.
There are no figures for how many red notices are ignored. They are often not made publicly available and it is up to the country issuing them to decide if they are publicised or not.
Requests are carefully examined to ensure they comply with Interpol’s constitution, which bans “any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character”, Interpol said in a statement.
“Interpol cannot insist or compel any member country to arrest an individual who is the subject of a Red Notice. Nor can Interpol require any member country to take any action in response to another member country’s request,” it said.
China has attracted criticism from rights groups for targeting, in particular, exiled Uygurs from Xinjiang, and accusing them of terrorism, including Dolkun Isa, the general secretary of the Munich-based World Uygur Congress.
China’s Ministry of Public Security, which is helping to organise the Beijing meeting, did not respond to requests for comment on concerns about China’s role in Interpol.
Foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Interpol operated under the principles of professionalism and neutrality to jointly fight and prevent crime and China respected that.
In April, Interpol issued a global red notice at Beijing’s request for Guo Wengui, a billionaire currently exiled in Manhattan, who has made claims of high-level corruption within the Communist Party.
Guo said the red notice showed China was exerting its influence, given it had the head of Interpol, “to prevent ordinary Chinese people from blowing the whistle on official corruption while overseas”.
Maya Wang, a Hong Kong-based China researcher for Human Rights Watch, said that China’s vice police chief heading Interpol could be seen as part of an overall push by Beijing to flex its international muscle.
“We have reason to worry that the internal information being shared by Interpol with the police chief may impact on particularly vulnerable minorities like the Uygurs, who have sometimes been involved in terrorism but often are targeted for political disloyalty,” said Wang, who acknowledged that so far there is little concrete evidence that this has happened.