Concerns have been raised over the appointment of a high-ranking Chinese official as the new head of Interpol, the world’s police force.
Humanitarian organisations and activists have expressed worries that Meng Hongwei’s election could help China track down dissidents and fugitives who have fled abroad.
Meng, China’s Vice Minister of Public Security, will take up the four-year post immediately, becoming the first Chinese citizen to lead the agency, taking over from Frenchwoman Mireille Ballestrazzi.
In a statement released by Interpol announcing his appointment, Meng said that as a veteran policeman, he stood “ready to do everything he could towards the cause of policing in the world”. He previously served as the Director of China’s paramilitary armed police, units of which are often deployed to some of the country’s most restive regions.
Welcoming Meng’s appointment, Interpol Secretary General Jürgen Stock said: “I am looking forward to working closely with him in ensuring that Interpol remains at the forefront of global police cooperation.”
Responding to news of Meng’s new role, Amnesty International’s Nicholas Bequelin said: “This is extraordinarily worrying given China’s long-standing practice of trying to use Interpol to arrest dissidents and refugees abroad.
“I think having this particular person in charge seems to conflict with the organisation’s mandate to work in the spirit of the universal declaration of human rights.”
The appointment of Meng comes at a time when China is seeking international help to bolster a state campaign to track down and repatriate corrupt officials and white-collar criminals who have fled to other countries. In 2015, more than 850 fugitives were returned to China to face corruption charges as part of Operation Fox Hunt.
In the past, China has received complaints from other countries over claims Beijing sent undercover agents onto their soil to investigate suspects without permission. China has handed lists of fugitives it is seeking to capture as part of the operation to nations including the US, Britain, Australia and France.
According to data released by the China Ministry of Public Security in April 2015, the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia are the most popular countries for Chinese fugitives to flee to, with the UK and France making up the only European countries in the top 20.
Since taking power in 2016, Chinese President Xi Jinping has jailed more than one million officials as part of his crackdown on corruption. As of October 2015, 409 fugitives have been detained overseas.
The government regularly uses Interpol red notices – a form of international arrest warrant – to track down many of them, which has prompted fears the appointment of Meng might result in abuse of the system. Meng’s new job will see him become President of Interpol’s Executive Committee, which provides guidance and direction to the organisation.