China Confesses to Abusing Interpol System in the United States

COMMENTARY Global Politics

China Confesses to Abusing Interpol System in the United States

Jun 27, 2019 5 min read
Ted R. Bromund, PhD

Senior Research Fellow, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

Ted Bromund studies Anglo-American relations, U.S. relations with Europe and the EU, and the U.S.’s leadership role in the world.
Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks during the 86th INTERPOL General Assembly at Beijing National Convention Center on September 26, 2017 in Beijing, China. Lintao Zhang / Staff / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

The Interpol system is supposed to be used only to pursue ordinary law criminals, but China is using Interpol to pursue a highly publicized list of individuals.

The crimes that China is seeking to punish are political.

The U.S. should take immediate action to end this practice of collaborating with the police state of Communist China.

Last month I pointed out that China’s boast that 58 of its top 100 fugitives would return voluntarily to China for “lenient punishment” hinted strongly at its politicized abuse of the Interpol system. The Interpol system is supposed to be used only to pursue ordinary law criminals, but China is using Interpol, and a variety of extra-legal means, to pursue a highly publicized list of individuals accused of crimes with a distinctly political edge. Now, from the unlikely source of Variety, comes confirmation that China is indeed abusing Interpol in the United States.

Last week, Variety ran an announcement that the Shanghai Film Group has cast the film “Fox Hunt”:

“The film is based on real live events and depicts the activities of Operation Fox Hunt, a worldwide anti-corruption initiative managed by China’s Ministry of Public Security. The operation seeks to find and repatriate Chinese people who have fled abroad to avoid accusations of corruption. The film is expected to show cross-border criminal proceedings and the use of Interpol’s so-called Red Notices. Production will take place in China and France.”

The Shanghai Film Group is not an ordinary production house: it is publicly-listed, but backed by the Chinese state. And “Fox Hunt,” notes Variety, “fit[s] with a policy of delivering patriotic movies in this anniversary year.” Or, as a Chinese source put it, “the film is expected to play a significant role in raising awareness so as to prevent economic crimes and demonstrate the fairness and justice of Chinese society.” You could hardly ask for a clearer confession that the movie is so much political propaganda.

Of course, it is not against Interpol’s rules to make political propaganda, or even to produce silly movies about Interpol that spread the old myth that Interpol agents carry guns and chase criminals. After all, Hollywood makes silly movies about Interpol all the time – witness the 2013 flick “Now You See Me,” in which Mélane Laurent plays an Interpol agent who chases attractive, justice-seeking magicians around the world. And then there is the upcoming action comedy “Red Notice,” starring Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and Gal ‘Wonder Woman’ Gadot, the title of which alludes to Interpol’s famous Red Notices.

So the problem here isn’t that China is selling patriotic nonsense about Interpol – though we don’t need any more cinematic foolishness about Interpol. And the not-so-subtle implication that Interpol is a willing partner of the Chinese Communist Party will do Interpol no good in the eyes of anyone who sees the movie and stops to think about it. Nor should we expect it to tell us anything serious about Operation Fox Hunt, which it appears to mix up with its successor, Operation Sky Net. Nor does it take into account the awkward fact that the single highest profile victim of the Chinese state’s hunt for the supposed beneficiaries of corruption was the president of Interpol himself, Meng Hongwei, who was arrested last fall and recently convicted in a public show trial.

No, the problem comes with the remarks made at the film’s production launch by Meng Qingfeng, China’s deputy minister of public security. According to Variety:

"The U.S. and Canada, countries with which China has no extradition treaty, have become top destination[s] for Chinese fugitives, Meng said. Bringing them back to face legal action in China therefore requires the use of Interpol protocols."

That is an extraordinary admission. Meng is no junior policeman. He is in the top rank of China’s public security hierarchy, and at the center of China’s crackdown on so-called “economic crimes,” a concept that gained prominence after a serious wobble in the Chinse stock markets in 2015 made it necessary for the regime to find villains to blame for the instability. He knows what he is talking about. If he says that China is using Interpol to get round the absence of an extradition treaty with the U.S. as it pursues the return of its top 100 fugitives in Operation Sky Net, then that is what it is doing.

In fact, while Meng Qingfeng’s admission is shockingly blatant, China’s actions are no secret. In noting the repatriation of Huang Yurong, who was recently returned to China after 13 years in the U.S., the South China Morning Post reported that China now uses Interpol extensively, and that the U.S. “has agreed to assist in the repatriation of officials accused of corruption. In return, the US hopes for Beijing’s help in taking back the thousands of Chinese residing in the US illegally.” As the South China Morning Post reports, the Chinese government does not rely on Interpol alone. It also offers “better treatment of relatives as inducements for suspects to return from abroad.” In other words – come back or we’ll keep on hurting your family.

This is a dirty business. There is no way the U.S. should be collaborating with the Chinese regime in this way, no matter what we think we are getting out of it. The U.S. procedure, as set out by the U.S. Justice Department Manual, is supposed to be that:

"In the United States, national law prohibits the arrest of the subject of a Red Notice issued by another INTERPOL member country, based upon the notice alone. If the subject for a Red Notice is found within the United States, the Criminal Division will make a determination if a valid extradition treaty exists between the United States and the requesting country for the specified crime or crimes. If the subject can be extradited, and after a diplomatic request for provisional arrest is received from the requesting country, the facts are communicated to the U.S. Attorney's Office with jurisdiction which will file a complaint and obtain an arrest warrant requesting extradition."

The crimes that China is seeking to punish are political. They are therefore abusing the Interpol system by using it to pursue political enemies. If it is indeed overlooking the need for a valid extradition treaty, the U.S. is breaking its own rules, which is exactly what China wants. And even if some or all of the fugitives being returned to China are guilty of corruption, the trials they receive in China are neither free nor fair, and their return is involuntary and impelled by threats to innocent people.

Meng Qingfeng’s open acknowledgement that China is using Interpol to procure back-door extraditions from the United States, while not genuinely new, is nonetheless shocking, and the U.S. should take immediate action to end this practice of collaborating with the police state of Communist China.

This piece originally appeared in Forbes