China’s dismal record of human rights protection both within the domestic borders and outside has always been a cause of great concern to the international community. The much recent debates and discussions on serious abuses in the Xinjiang region is already creating a global backlash against China.
China uses its financial leverage with diplomatic maneuvering to build strong connections, appoint its nominees at the multilateral forums and promote its vested political interests. Beijing is known to systematically utilize and manipulate is presence in the international organizations to not only advance its influence on the global stage but also for political purposes. This was quite evident in the appointment of a Chinese President at Interpol, a position China misused to go after its high-profile political dissidents abroad.
In 2016, Beijing had pushed its Minister of Public Security Meng Hongwei into the office of Interpol at the election in Bali where 830 Police Chiefs and Senior law enforcement officials from 164 countries voted. This was the first time since 1945 that an authoritarian power succeeded in getting elected to the Presidency to the Interpol. Chinese officials lobbied for votes by offering billions of dollars in aid to smaller nations’ governments and their police departments. Authoritarian regimes in the past too have been criticized for misusing Interpol for their political objectives.
Russia was also known to misuse the system to go after its political enemies abroad and China is no different in this matter. The Presidency was hailed as a diplomatic achievement by the Chinese state media; however, it turned out to be a systematic ploy to use Interpol as a mechanism to suppress its opponents abroad. Beijing claimed that these are the fugitives facing charges in China. On the other hand, Human Rights Organizations globally strongly condemned the appointment of Meng as the President of the Policing agency.
While being in power, Meng sought to translate the official Interpol documents into Chinese language with his four Chinese aides, trying to ‘sinicize’ the way Interpol worked. Chinese is not one of the four official languages of Interpol and these attempts by Meng pointed to the beginning of ‘sinicization’ of the organization. During his term, Meng also issued ‘Red Corner’ Notice Requests to the Agency which were politically motivated against dissidents.
Red Corner notices are, by norm, issued to seek arrest or provisional arrest of wanted person and while the Interpol system is to be used for people who commit serious crimes, China used it for crimes with a distinct political edge. Notably, China issued 612 ‘Red Notices’ in 2016 and sought the extradition of those against whom the notices were issued. In the process, it was able to secure the extradition of 17 individuals in the same year. In the interregnum, China increased its funding to the Interpol. In 2019, China was seventh largest contributor to the Interpol with more than US$ two million involvement which is doubled since the last ten years. China contributed just over US$ one million in 2010.
China has no extradition treaty with the US and Canada and these countries are a top destination for Chinese ‘fugitives’. China, therefore, uses Interpol extensively as a mechanism to bring back political dissidents from these countries to face legal action in China. In 2019, Beijing boasted that 58 of its top 100 fugitives would return voluntarily to China for “lenient punishment” pointing towards the extra-legal ways China is resorting to and an open, systematic abuse of the red notice networks for political purposes.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that China abused Interpol’s red notices to harass, detain and target China-based relatives of suspects living outside China thereby compelling them to return to China. The use of red notices as a justification to systematically harass their family members was clearly mentioned in the report by HRW. By offering better treatment of relatives as a motivation for suspects, China made sure that most of these suspects returned home for punishment. Needless to say, those who returned were ill-treated by authorities in China.
In 2019, HRW while expressing concerns about Interpol’s respect for human rights, wrote a letter raising concern over the leadership of Meng and emphasized that Interpol should address China’s misuse of the Red Corner system. These red corner notices, in the past, have been issued to Dolkun Isa, a Germany-based activist working for the rights of the Uyghur community in Xinjiang and the United States-based Wang Zigang, an advocate of democracy in the People’s Republic of China.
The notice against Dolkun Isa was revoked by Interpol during Meng’s tenure and China had expressed dissatisfaction at this decision and was also frustrated with Meng for allowing the withdrawal. Meng was later arrested by the Chinese government on manufactured charges of corruption and sentences to thirteen years in prison.
In November 2020, when the Executive Committee of the International Criminal Police Organization will be electing for the post of Vice-President/Delegate for Asia, China has begun to push forward the agenda of bringing a Chinese Director at the helm of affairs in Interpol to push forward the Communist Party of China’s agenda of ‘purging’ its dissidents. Given the suspicion around China’s own track record of human rights and police work, the democracies of the world must join hands together to defend and safeguard the democratic structures of the international community and not let a few vested interests stifle their independence.
At a crucial juncture when the backlash against the human rights abuses in Xinjiang has become strong and activists campaigning for the issue of Tibet and democracy in China have organized themselves better, China feels the need to curb these activities in a stronger manner. It is time for the international community to take the responsibility to uphold the values and principles of fairness, transparency and accountability in the international and multilateral organizations.