Interpol’s General Assembly voted last week to elect a senior Chinese public security official, Hu Binchen, to serve on the international police organization’s 13-member Executive Committee. The election results have prompted strong condemnation from human rights activists and legislators around the world who fear that Hu’s election will enable Beijing to leverage Interpol’s resources to target Chinese political dissidents.
Interpol’s Executive Committee is responsible for overseeing the organization’s General Secretariat, which runs Interpol’s day-to-day operations, including the Red Notice system. A Red Notice is an international wanted-person notice submitted by individual countries or international courts. A specialized task force within the General Secretariat then reviews and votes on each submission. While the system is designed to prevent alleged criminals from evading justice, rogue regimes have previously exploited it to pursue political dissidents.
Hu’s victory makes him the second Chinese official to hold a leadership role in Interpol. Meng Hongwei, a Chinese official who became president of Interpol in 2016, faced criticism for abusing Red Notices before he vanished in 2018 during a trip to China. Meng reemerged in prison the following week, with Interpol receiving his resignation as Beijing announced he was under investigation for bribery, although the charges appeared spurious.
Beijing subsequently sentenced Meng to more than a decade in prison, but his arrest was likely further evidence of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s crackdown on political rivals under the guise of anti-corruption efforts. Recently, Grace Meng, the wife of Meng Hongwei and a friend of Hu, warned that Hu may suffer a similar fate if he deviates from Beijing’s objectives for Interpol.
According to a recent report by Safeguard Defenders, a Madrid-based human rights group, China has a well-documented history of using Red Notices as a tool of political persecution. In July, Moroccan authorities arrested Idris Hasan, a Uyghur software engineer and critic of the Chinese Communist Party, at the Casablanca airport on the basis of a Red Notice spearheaded by Beijing. Hasan’s arrest received widespread international attention, prompting Interpol to review and then cancel the notice for violating the organization’s charter. The review stated that China’s politically driven request for the notice was inconsistent with the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The Safeguard Defenders report also notes that China issued an average of 33 Red Notices per year between 2005 and 2014, a number that has increased to over 200 annually since then. In 2016, the PRC issued more than 612 Red Notices. Even for dissidents who try to evade these notices, Beijing has shown it will resort to threatening and harassing family members to elicit compliance with its demands.
However, the Biden administration and most of Congress have been silent regarding Hu’s victory, raising questions about Washington’s willingness to confront China’s larger bid to populate international organizations with leaders deferential to its interests. Lawmakers in the House and Senate should hold more hearings on China’s role in and manipulation of international organizations. Members of Congress, along with the White House, should also publicly condemn these malign efforts.
Likewise, Congress and the Biden administration should take measures to mitigate Beijing’s ability to exploit Hu’s position for political purposes. The United States is the largest financial supporter of Interpol and should not be afraid of leveraging its influence to prevent abuses. Washington should also work more closely with democratic members of Interpol to support more legitimate and qualified candidates for leadership positions. Washington should also continue to call for greater transparency regarding Red Notices originating from Beijing and insist on reviews of politically motivated submissions.
Zane Zovak is a research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where he focuses on the diplomatic and military actions of the People’s Republic of China. He contributes to FDD’s China Program and Center on Military and Political Power (CMPP). For more analysis from the author, the China Program, and CMPP, please subscribe HERE. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_CMPP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.