Senior Chinese public security official Meng Hongwei elected as Interpol head

Meng Hongwei (right), Chinese vice public security minister, shakes hands with Nguyen Quang Dam, commandant of the Vietnam Coast Guard, in Beijing.
Meng Hongwei (right), Chinese vice public security minister, shakes hands with Nguyen Quang Dam, commandant of the Vietnam Coast Guard, in Beijing.PHOTO: REUTERS

NUSA DUA, Indonesia (AFP, REUTERS) – Interpol said on Thursday (Nov 10) Chinese public security official Meng Hongwei was the global police cooperation body’s new president, in what could be a boost to Beijing’s domestic anti-graft crackdown.

Vice Minister of Public Security Meng Hongwei was chosen at its annual general assembly on the Indonesian island of Bali, the France-headquartered Interpol announced.

He is the first Chinese official to hold the post, China’s official Xinhua news agency said, and takes over from Frenchwoman Mireille Ballestrazzi.

The move hands China another leading spot on an international agency and will likely help facilitate its high-profile efforts to track down Chinese fugitive officials who have fled the country.

China has worked bilaterally with countries around the world, and through the France-based organisation, to chase down Chinese suspects as part of President Xi Jinping’s sweeping campaign against corruption.

In 2014, China issued an Interpol “red notice”, the closest instrument to an international arrest warrant, for its 100 most-wanted corruption suspects who have fled overseas. 

It has said it has brought back at least one-third of them so far. 

China has been seeking more international cooperation to hunt down suspected fugitives since Xi began the drive against deeply rooted graft about four years ago.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang congratulated Meng on his appointment, noting China enjoyed “close communication and cooperation with Interpol and its member states.

“We attach high importance to the role played by Interpol, and would like to shoulder more responsibility and contribute more in the field of law enforcement and security.” 

While it could provide a boost to China’s campaign to hunt alleged economic criminals abroad as part of its anti-graft drive, rights groups raised concerns that Beijing’s intentions may be more sinister.

“It’s worrying in the sense that for a long time, China has been using... Interpol to arrest dissidents and refugees abroad,” William Nee, China researcher at Amnesty International, told AFP.

“We have looked at cases in the past where it seems that China has abused Interpol’s system to target particularly Uighur dissidents who, as far as we know, have committed no crime under international standards.

“That’s a worrying precedent that might be used towards people from other walks of life.” 

The mostly Muslim Uighur minority in the Chinese region of Xinjiang have long complained of religious and cultural repression. Many have fled the north-western region in recent years, often heading to Central or South-east Asia.

Interpol is an intergovernmental organisation that acts as a network connecting the law enforcement agencies of its 190 member countries. It does not have agents of its own with powers of arrest.