Chinese security official elected Interpol chief

Story highlights

  • Meng Hongwei is first Chinese official to head Interpol
  • China seeking international cooperation in hunt for corrupt officials overseas

Hong Kong (CNN)A top Chinese security minister has been elected president of the international crime fighting and police cooperation organization Interpol.

Meng Hongwei, China's vice minister for public security and a former head of Interpol China, took the post Thursday at the organization's general assembly in Bali, Indonesia.
    According to a statement from Interpol, he said he stood ready to do everything he could towards the cause of policing the world. "We currently face some of the most serious global public security challenges since World War Two," said Mr Meng.
    The move could bolster China's efforts to repatriate fugitive officials but critics have voiced concern that Beijing could use the crime-fighting body to track down dissidents based overseas.
    He is the first Chinese official to become Interpol president, according to Xinhua.
    Interpol's secretary general is responsible for overseeing the day-to-day work of the organization, currently Jurgen Stock.

    Concerns

    The election of a Chinese policeman to head the world's largest law enforcement agency is highly concerning, said Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International regional director for East Asia.
    "(This is) someone who presides over a police force notorious for human rights abuses and is a tool for political enforcement of a one party system," he told CNN.
    Bequelin also pointed to previous incidents where China has sought to use Interpol red notices -- which place people on global wanted lists -- against political dissidents.
    According to Article 3 of Interpol's Constitution, "it is strictly forbidden for the organization to undertake any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character."
    One Chinese dissident placed on an Interpol red notice by China is Dolkun Isa, despite his being granted political asylum by Germany, according to International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
    Isa is head of the World Uyghur Congress, which speaks on behalf of Uyghurs, a Turkic-speaking, largely Muslim minority living in China's Xinjiang province.
    Western governments have long refused to enforce the notice against Isa, but in 2016, he was denied a visa to visit India due to his status. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei justified this on the grounds that Isa is "wanted for violent terrorist activities."

    Foxhunt

    As well as targeting dissidents, China has long pushed for international cooperation in seeking repatriation of corrupt officials who have fled overseas.
    Operation Foxhunt has seen more than 2,000 "economic fugitives", including 342 former officials, returned to China since 2014, according to the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.
    "Western countries can't become 'safe havens' for corrupt fugitives. No matter where they have escaped to, we will try every means to bring them back," Chinese President Xi Jinping said in 2014.
    Bequelin said that "nobody is opposed to China exercising leadership roles in international organizations if it is done in a way that is in line with good practice."
    "But there are many areas where China's own record is worrying in that respect and policing would definitely come at the top of this list," he added.