CSR 2019: China’s Influence on Interpol – Progress and Pushback

By Sam Boone


As China continues down its road of modernization, China’s leaders hope to increase not only their country’s economic strength but also its international political influence. Since the People’s Republic of China joined the United Nations in 1971, China has been gradually increasing its role in international organizations and becoming more intertwined in the network of international structures largely constructed by the United States and its allies following the end of World War II.

This paper focuses on China’s influence on the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol[i]) as well as the organization’s effects on China. It aims to add to the existing literature on how China engages with and may be transforming international institutions. China has recently become a more active member in Interpol as the country seeks to bring home Chinese citizens, accused of corruption and terrorism, who have fled abroad. The election of Chinese Vice Minister of Public Security Meng Hongwei to be president of Interpol in 2016 signaled that China had become a leading country in the organization. However, China’s October 2018 arrest and subsequent March 2019 expulsion of Meng from the Communist Party on the pretext of bribery charges creates uncertainty about China’s future relationship with Interpol. A number of human rights activists have accused China of abusing Interpol’s Red Notice System (RNS), designed to locate and provisionally arrest individuals pending an extradition agreement. In an effort to repatriate Chinese nationals wanted by Chinese authorities for violating Chinese restrictions on political or religious activism, China has abused the guidelines laid out in the Interpol Constitution. This paper addresses what China gains from increased participation in Interpol and how effective it has been in influencing the organization for its own benefit.

The idea of an authoritarian country that does not practice the rule of law heading the International Criminal Police Organization had caused some people to question the purpose of the organization. However, a closer look at recent developments paints a more complicated picture. Focusing on China’s use of Interpol’s RNS, this paper finds that, while China does attempt to manipulate the RNS for political purposes, it has not succeeded so far in changing the rules or norms of the organization. The history of Interpol’s relations with human rights and the top-down structure of the organization creates a difficult environment for China to alter the organization’s rules and norms. Nonetheless, China still exerts a large influence in the organization through its ability to shape the agenda on topics ranging from the Belt and Road Initiative, to Taiwan’s exclusion from the organization, to technological changes that affect international policing. For the most part, the relationship between Interpol and China has been symbiotic, since the organization has assisted China in pursuing fugitives abroad, but human rights watchdogs and countries that adhere to the rule of law still play the dominant role in maintaining the core values of the organization.      

Theoretical Approach and Scope

This paper takes a fundamentally realist approach to understanding how China attempts to influence international organizations and how international organizations affect China in return. According to realists, international organizations are a reflection of state power formulated to further the security of powerful states. States engage in these organizations to project power and accomplish unilateral goals. Mearsheimer’s realist description of international organizations as a “set of rules that stipulate the ways in which states should cooperate and compete with each other, and which are embodied in their personnel and budget” serves as a useful framework for how China interacts with Interpol.[ii] China, like other countries, joined Interpol to increase its own security and combat criminals harmful to their state’s well-being. However, states also find some of Interpol’s limitations counterproductive to their goals and seek to either bypass the rules or, when possible, exert their influence to change the rules and norms of the organization. Overall, China approves of the overarching framework of Interpol’s respect for state sovereignty, but this does not preclude China from attempting to (?) shape the rules to help achieve its domestic goals.

This analysis is divided into six sections. The first part will examine the history, evolution, and structure of Interpol, focusing on how other nations have affected the organization, to provide context for the analysis of China’s role in the organization. The second section will examine what China aspires to gain through influencing Interpol, as well as how Interpol can benefit from increased Chinese participation. The third section will highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the RNS. The fourth section will compare Chinese “Red Notices” with Article 3 of the Interpol Constitution, which ensures Interpol’s non-intervention in cases of a political, religious, military, or racial character, to determine if China is abusing the system. The fifth section will demonstrate how Interpol is responding to authoritarian abuse of their RNS. The concluding section considers other ways that China can increase its influence in Interpol in the future, which also suggests areas for future research.

The History and Structure of Interpol

When China[iii] assumed Taiwan’s position in Interpol in 1984, it joined an international organization with a long and contentious history.  Interpol was originally established in 1923 as the International Criminal Police Commission (ICPC) in Vienna to address the rising threat of cross-border crime following World War I.[iv]  The founding 20 countries, mostly located in Europe, created the ICPC  to direct police-to-police communication links on an international scale, with a  central headquarters relaying information and news to member countries.[v] One of the key tenets of the ICPC was its respect for national sovereignty, meaning that it could not force countries to accept requests by other parties. Despite the limited scope of operations, the organization faced an existential crisis with the onset of World War II.

Following the Nazi invasion of Austria in 1939, Nazi Germany took over the ICPC by replacing the head of the ICPC with a Nazi Austrian and later moving the headquarters to Berlin.[vi] Soon after, the Nazis altered search warrants to include an entry for race alongside one for religion and utilized the ICPC network in their hunt to arrest Jewish refugees.[vii] Following the atrocities of World War II, police forces gathered in 1946 to re-establish the international organization as the International Criminal Police Organization (ICPO).[viii] Other than moving the headquarters to France, the organization remained very similar to the ICPC. Under the politically charged environment of the Cold War, Czechoslovakia used the RNS to track down and capture political dissidents who had received political asylum in West Germany.[ix] Considering this a violation of national sovereignty, the director of the FBI decided to withdraw the U.S. as a member of the ICPO in protest. Losing the U.S. constituted a disaster and eventually forced the organization to adopt a new constitution in 1956.[x] The new constitution included Article 2, which embedded the principles and rules of the organization with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Article 3, which forbid the organization’s involvement in cases considered political, military, religious, or racial in nature.[xi] Along with the constitution, the organization officially rebranded itself as Interpol and the United States fully rejoined the organization, but this would not be the last major change.

In 1971, Interpol signed a treaty with the UN to formally designate itself an intergovernmental organization.[xii] Soon after, countries became ever more frustrated with Interpol as it refused to act on terrorism cases due to their inherently political nature. Interpol risked obsolescence when it refused to act after the Palestinian terrorist attack at the 1972 Munich Olympics and when countries sought help in tracking down Nazi War criminals.[xiii] Following pressure from the developed countries, Interpol finally passed two resolutions in 1984 to directly address counter-terrorism. The first allowed “violent crime known as terrorism” to be pursued within the organization’s constitutional mandate by linking it to ordinary crime.[xiv] The second resolution modified Article 3 to state that a violent political act outside a “conflict area” does not count as political, which allowed Interpol to address “foreign terrorism” in Europe or the United States.[xv] Following the 9/11 attacks in New York City, the United States successfully filed Red Notices for crimes against humanity. [xvi] Interpol streamlined itself to focus on a select number of crimes, such as terrorism and public safety, international fugitives, drug and criminal organizations, human trafficking, as well as financial and high-tech crimes.[xvii] The most important change in recent years has been the implementation of the I-24/7, an internet-based encrypted communication system that allows immediate access and communication between Interpol and member countries.[xviii]

Interpol is composed of 190 member nations and is led by a Secretary General who acts as its chief executive officer. There is also an executive committee of 13 members, including the president. The president’s role is largely ceremonial, as they do not have the power to issue alerts.[xix] The Executive Committee sets the agenda for the General Assembly, where the organization’s final authority lies. Interpol is similar to the UN in that every country has one vote in the General Assembly, which has led the balance of power to shift to developing countries.[xx] Every member country has a National Central Bureau (NCB) that links the country’s national police to Interpol’s network.[xxi] The members of the Executive Committee have the most power because they meet three times a year and decide the organization’s policy and direction, but it is impossible for them to pass resolutions without the support of the General Assembly, which meets only once a year.[xxii] The members of the Executive Committee change every three years[xxiii] on a geographic rotation[xxiv]. Throughout its history, Interpol has traditionally been led by Secretary Generals from France, Britain or the United States, and developed countries have held a majority of the executive positions.[xxv] The number of executive seats that the Europeans hold certainly gives them more decision-making ability relative to the size of their population. This makes it difficult for countries such as Russia, Turkey or China to dictate the policy agenda of Interpol without compromising with the Europeans and Americans.

There are no significant political or economic requirements for Interpol membership, with nations only required to pay the minimal annual membership fee which in 2017 amounted to 16,310 USD (@ 14,386 euros).[xxvi] The United States willingly paid the highest member dues in 2017 at a total of 10,569,129 euros; meanwhile, China represented the sixth-highest total, paying around 1/5th of the U.S. contribution.[xxvii] Interpol has no body that would be analogous to the UN Security Council and, in voting, countries that pay more get no more power than those who make the minimum payment. Historically, there has generally been a strong correlation between membership dues and the likelihood of a seat on the Executive Committee.[xxviii] This might explain why European countries, who are consistently the biggest contributors, continue to dominate positions on the Executive Committee. 

To pass a resolution, a country first must either have a seat on the Executive Committee or have another nation pass its message through the committee to put its proposal on the agenda. Second, the country must rally support in the General Assembly. A change in popular sentiment from a large enough contingency of member states can lead to resolutions that change Interpol’s laws. The United States and Europe took advantage of a global shift in attitudes towards terrorism to push for changes inside the organization. However, if the organization becomes fractured by ideological politics, such as during the Cold War, the organization can lose its effectiveness. Although it remains unlikely, the lack of a binding agreement does leave open the possibility that countries could leave in protest if they feel the organization has become a political tool for authoritarian countries. Previous experiences with Communist satellite states and Nazi Germany have made the organization very aware of the dangers when authoritarian regimes attempt to use Interpol for political gains. China would be smart to strive for change from within the framework of the constitution, while convincing other countries that change is necessary to create an Interpol that functions well in the modern world.

China’s Goals in INTERPOL

In many aspects Interpol is a perfect match for China’s goals — not only in terms of domestic politics, but also for how China imagines itself in the world. Xi Jinping used his common phrase “mutual benefit and win-win outcomes” (坚持互利共赢-jianchi huli gongying) in his speech to the Interpol General Assembly in 2017.[xxix] China has been ramping up its support for the organization and the 2016 election of Meng Hongwei as president, while largely ceremonial, seemed to be a stamp of approval for China’s hard work and dedication to promoting Interpol. Tim Morris, Interpol’s Executive Director of Security Policy, said that “China has been a very important member of Interpol and contributed in all different ways”, while Ursula Martinez, head of Interpol’s Command and Coordination Center, claimed, “China is really important for operations located in Asian countries.”[xxx] In 2016, China gathered and reported two million pieces of information regarding stolen and lost Chinese identification documents.[xxxi] That same year, the Chinese Ministry of Public Security also claimed that they cooperated with foreign authorities on 4,460 different cases.[xxxii] This information is helpful not only for bringing Chinese criminals home, but also for keeping other countries safe. During his speech, Xi promised China that he would devote resources to training 5,000 law enforcement agents, assisting in upgrading Interpol’s communication network, and increasing Interpol’s global influence.[xxxiii]

China can also gain substantially from its membership in Interpol. Since 2012, Xi Jinping has engaged in a sweeping campaign to repatriate Chinese citizens suspected of corruption and terrorism.[xxxiv] During that same period, China has issued approximately 200 Red Notices a year.[xxxv] In 2015, China issued 100 Red Notices against economic fugitives as part of Operation Skynet, which seeks to repatriate corrupt Chinese officials and businessmen.[xxxvi] High level corruption is a sensitive topic in China and addressing it is something that Xi feels is vital to long-term security, as well as the success of the Communist Party.[xxxvii] China wants to show its citizens that the state can extend its reach anywhere in the world. The Global Times states that “Corrupt officials who might have thought about escaping will not dare do it now, after such tight measures and cooperation with a wide range of countries”.[xxxviii] Other state-run media even suggested that Meng’s election itself would be a boon to the international expansion of Chinese efforts to repatriate corrupt citizens.[xxxix] Apart from corruption, China also hopes to use the Interpol network to work with other countries in the fight against Islamist militants in Xinjiang.[xl] China hopes to crack down on Uighurs who have fled the country and have ties to extremist groups within its own borders. In Meng Hongwei’s speech to the General Assembly in 2017, he emphasized the threat of terrorism and stressed the importance of unity.[xli] Interpol has been focused on terrorism for several decades now, but where China seems to be making the largest push is in regard to corruption. Li Shulei, who leads the Chinese repatriation efforts for the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, claimed that China must “build a new order to fight international corruption…(and) cut off escape routes for corrupt elements.”[xlii] China believes that Interpol can help the country accomplish its goals of counter-terrorism and fighting corruption. Worryingly, many Western countries would say there is also a third area under attack, political dissidents. Trying to separate political dissidents from the first two categories can be a tricky task but it is vital in order to assess China’s present and future impact on the organization.

In addition to its fight against corruption and terrorism, China also places importance on being seen as a responsible power. China not only wants to use Interpol as a tool to accomplish its goals, but also to give its actions more legitimacy. Shortly following Meng’s election, the Beijing Youth Daily published an article proclaiming Interpol to be the most effective platform for combating international crime, while also signaling that the election of Meng demonstrated that international society is recognizing and accepting China’s version of the rule of law.[xliii] While this newspaper is certainly exaggerating, the election of Meng did seem to indicate a certain approval within Interpol for China’s actions. In Xi’s speech, he stresses the “rule of law” both in his introduction, as well as in his proposals for what Interpol should focus on in the years to come.[xliv] China is most likely more interested in appearing to be a rule of law country than in actually becoming one. The sudden arrest of Meng demonstrates that China views its own version of justice as superseding the integrity of an international organization.  It is crucial to acknowledge two factors at play against each other. On one hand, China is using the RNS to assist in its anti-graft and counterterrorism repatriation campaigns, which leads to complications with Article 3 of Interpol’s Constitution when political dissent is involved. On the other hand, China wants to conform to the standards of Interpol’s review process to be seen as a responsible member of the organization. If China is seen as cheating the system, they will be less likely to obtain Executive Committee positions in the future, thereby decreasing their ability to drive change from within the organization.

How do Red Notices Function?

While Interpol operates 17 databases to assist in solving crimes, the only one explored in this paper is the oldest and most famous database, the criminal database. The criminal database, now synonymous with the RNS, is a collection of names of all the wanted criminals from around the world with outstanding Red Notices. A red notice is a request to locate and provisionally arrest an individual pending extradition, and is issued by the General Secretary.[xlv] While Interpol makes it very clear that this is not the same as an international arrest warrant, this is the closest instrument to an arrest warrant that exists. Red Notices are issued by a country but can be ignored by other member countries, and are largely dependent on extradition treaties between the parties involved.[xlvi] Red Notices are processed through the Commission for the Control of Interpol Files (CCF), but it is not the CCF’s job to decide guilt or innocence, but rather to streamline the process and ensure that the request comports with the constitution.[xlvii]

One of the major RNS foundations is the inherent assumption that a country’s request is in accord with Interpol policy.[xlviii] Interpol functions as though there is a common understanding for the designation of criminals, despite the fact that political asylum, differing definitions of terrorist groups, and espionage, all provide clear examples that this is not true.[xlix] The system is based on trust that all requests are legitimate, because there are limits to what Interpol can do to make sure countries abide by the constitution. In 2011, Interpol issued around 21 Red Notices a day and Interpol admitted that 97 percent of requests were not reviewed in depth due to limited personnel.[l] During the same period, an Interpol investigation showed that 28 percent of Red Notices came from countries that had Freedom House scores pf “no civil liberties”, while 50 percent of red notices came from countries with a “high level of corruption” based on Freedom House’s transparency index.[li] Interpol is an opaque organization out of necessity, so it is difficult for the public to find data to prove or disprove this assumption.

Red Notices constitute an important part of China’s repatriation strategy, but other extralegal methods have accompanied the use of the RNS. The RNS itself is a capable tool because it freezes all international bank accounts and increases travel restrictions for designated individuals.[lii] Of the 100 criminals placed on the RNS through Operation Skynet, 51 have already been repatriated.[liii] However, this overemphasizes the power of the RNS because 35 of the 51 criminals “voluntarily” returned to China.[liv] While frozen bank accounts, travel restrictions, and fear of arrest could be factors, it is most probable that these targets returned home because of harassment of their families and loved ones. Interviews with five Red Notice individuals, who wished to remain anonymous, indicated that Chinese authorities subjected their families to threats, and in some situations, arbitrary detention.[lv] China has shown they are not afraid to use extralegal methods, and they have even used Red Notices to justify the systematic harassing of families. While it is in the nature of Interpol to not comment on the political actions of member countries, it must be noted that even in cases where China is within its rights to issue a Red Notice, it increases the effectiveness of these notices through methods that fall outside of limits on how rule of law countries should operate.

Case Studies

This section seeks to place Chinese Red Notice cases in the context of Interpol’s Article 3 Repository of Practice, a guidebook published by Interpol that provides examples and explanations for what constitutes a violation of their constitution. These case studies reflect a significant bias owing to the fact that these represent what might be seen as the most egregious notices instead of the average notice. One issue is that quantitative research is difficult, as the public Interpol database in 2018 [lvi] only contains 82 Chinese criminals with outstanding Red Notices.[lvii] As each country can select which Red Notices can be made public, the published cases on the Interpol website contain inherent bias. However, studying the prominent cases does have its advantages. These are the cases that receive the most media attention and are most likely to inform key officials, policy makers, and public opinion. Even if these cases only represent a small number of notices on China’s behalf, the damage they can do to the credibility of both Interpol and China is substantial.

Case Study I: Dolkun Isa

The first case study focuses on Dolkun Isa and the Chinese Red Notice seeking his arrest for terrorism that dates back to 1999. Political activism in Xinjiang province has long been a thorn in China’s side, and this autonomous region holds a large number of ethnic and religious minorities. Most of China’s focus on terrorism concerns this province and, in the eyes of the government, there is little difference between political activism and terrorism.[lviii] China blames the instability and unrest in Xinjiang on separatist Islamist militants. As of December 2018, it is estimated that  as many as 1 million Uighurs are currently being held in “reeducation camps”.[lix] Dolkun Isa fled China in the early 1990’s in a move he describes as escaping persecution for his political views.[lx] China issued a Red Notice against Isa in 1997 and later put him on the country’s most-wanted terrorist list in 2003.[lxi] After receiving political refugee status in Germany, Isa became the secretary general of the Munich-based World Uighur Congress, which advocates for political and religious rights for Uighurs.[lxii] International travel became more difficult for Isa following his red notice warrant, –he was arrested in Italy in 2017, briefly detained in South Korea in 2009, and denied a visa from India.[lxiii] Despite the case being relatively high profile and the weak evidence on the part of China, the Red Notice remained in place from 1997 until its reversal in March 2018.

China’s evidence for Isa’s crime primarily rested on his purported relationship to terrorist groups in Xinjiang. While at Xinjiang University in the 1980s, Isa participated in several pro-democracy movements and was expelled from school for distributing books about Uighur history and culture.[lxiv] China is not necessarily accusing Isa himself of violent crime, but rather of association with terrorist groups. The Interpol Article 3 Repository states that, while freedom of expression is not an absolute right, “Insulting authorities are among those [rights] that by very nature fall within the scope of Article 3.”[lxv] According to current practice, speaking out against the nature of the government apparatus in Xinjiang inherently places the case in a political category. The repository states that, in the context of political unrest, “The predominance test will have to be applied where there are elements of both a political nature and an ordinary-law crime nature.”[lxvi] Even if passing out illicit materials constituted an ordinary crime in Xinjiang, under these circumstances the predominance test should identify the nature of this crime to be overwhelmingly political. China’s final argument is guilt through association with terrorist groups. Even though Interpol has a special provision in their rules to deny freedom of association with terrorist groups, the current practice lays down specific guidelines for what constitutes membership in a terrorist organization. Section 3.6 of the repository outlines that the terrorist nature of the organization must be approved by recognized international entities such as the United Nations, and that the individual practices active and meaningful involvement in said organization beyond mere general support of its political goals.[lxvii] Dolkun Isa’s case would certainly not apply as there is no evidence of active membership in any Islamist militant group, and Isa actively denounces the use of terrorist tactics no matter the circumstance. The lack of evidence for any active membership in a terrorist group makes it impossible for his case to fall outside of Article 3 on the merits of guilt by association, and Isa’s right to free speech is protected by the Interpol Constitution. The Red Notice harassing Isa for 21 years seems to clearly represent an abuse of the system that took too long to correct.

Case Study II: Guo Wengui

The next case study focuses on the Red Notice of Guo Wengui and the charges against him on the grounds of corruption. Guo is a Chinese billionaire who fled to the U.S. in 2014 in anticipation of corruption charges following the arrest of former business partners.[lxviii] In 2015, Chinese media ran several stories about Guo’s corruption, which he claimed were fabrications made by political and business opponents with vendettas against him.[lxix] In 2017, Guo started giving interviews to U.S. media and spilling Chinese Communist Party secrets, personally calling out former Politburo member He Guoqing for his hidden wealth and corruption.[lxx] These interviews brought negative attention to the possible hypocrisy of Xi’s anti-graft campaign, and three days following the interviews China submitted and approved a Red Notice calling for Guo’s arrest and extradition on the grounds of corruption, bribery, and rape.[lxxi]

As previously mentioned, it is not up to Interpol to decide the innocence of Guo or even to investigate serious charges such as rape. The important consideration is whether this is a case of pure corruption or whether Guo should be treated as a political dissident. According to Interpol, corruption is an ordinary-level crime, but considering the timing of the events, it is easy to see this case in terms of disclosure of government secrets instead of pure corruption.  In section 3.4 of the repository, titled Offenses Against the Security of the State, it states that “A case-by-case basis is required to ascertain that the facts of the case are purely political in nature…(and) the facts of a political case may include aspects of ordinary-law crime which may lead to the conclusion that the case is of a predominantly ordinary-law nature.”[lxxii]

In instances that involve whistle-blowing, such as the leaks by Edward Snowden, the cases are unquestionably political in nature, and therefore no Red Notices are issued. However, in the case of Guo, it can be argued that the nature of corruption and bribery charges supersede the political nature of this case. Despite that argument, the timing of the Red Notice and the interviews that fingered members of the Communist Party supply ample evidence that the Red Notice was politically motivated. When cases such as Guo’s became highly political and the line becomes blurred, it would be in Interpol’s best interest to deny China’s request for a Red Notice. 

Overall, the cases related to Xinjiang and terrorism seem to present a larger predicament for Interpol than the cases of corruption. The case of Guo Wengui had an overarching political component that many of the other corruption cases such as Operation Skynet lacked. For example, the previous number one fugitive on the RNS for China was the former vice-mayor of Wenzhou, Yang Xiuzhou, who embezzled approximately 19 million yuan in funds along with 7 million yuan in bribes.[lxxiii] Helping China repatriate criminals such as Yang through legal methods is the purpose of Interpol and member countries should play their part. Despite the fact that many corruption cases do not fall under Article 3, the accusations of politically motivated Red Notices against Interpol forced the organization to issue a response in 2016 that strengthened their commitment to Article 3.[lxxiv]

Interpol’s Response

Interpol is well aware of the criticisms from Western countries regarding abuse of the RNS. As mentioned earlier, it is important for Interpol to maintain its core values and the trust of its member nations, especially the countries that are its largest contributors. In response to complaints about the failures of the RNS, Interpol passed a new regulation in 2016 to strengthen the system’s review process.[lxxv] While the new resolution did not match the complete overhaul proposed by many human rights groups, many aspects of a 2015 proposal submitted by Fair Trials International were incorporated.[lxxvi]

The new resolution explains that Interpol recognizes the importance of ensuring that data processing in the information system complies with Interpol’s rules, particularly Article 2 and 3 of the constitution.[lxxvii] The Commission for the Control of Interpol’s Files (CCF) was restructured into two chambers. The Supervisory and Advisory Chamber will ensure the processing of personal data is in compliance with Interpol’s rules and will provide advice on projects.[lxxviii] On the other hand, the Requests Chamber will examine and decide requests for access to data and corrections or deletions of the processed data.[lxxix] The resolution also established a clear time-table for a review process and procedures to provide an effective remedy for individuals with regards to data.[lxxx] This resolution improves upon the previous structure by separating the processing and review phase into two chambers, and by speeding up a possible review process. Reviewing all of the cases in depth will still be impossible, but it is now significantly easier for each country’s National Central Bureau (NCB) to report possible violations and have them reviewed. This new system helped facilitate the review of Isa Dulkan’s case, which was overturned in 2018.

It is worth mentioning that this resolution took effect the same year as the election of Meng Hongwei to the presidency of Interpol. Interpol is playing a strategic game to give China more power in the organization, while also adding provisions to prevent a large backlash by Western countries. Interpol is pushing back against the possibility of abuse of the RNS and safeguarding the ideology of the organization that allows it to connect police forces across the globe.

Further Considerations: China’s Influence on Interpol

Due to the history and structure of Interpol, as well as the pushback against abuse of the RNS, it is difficult for China to shape the rules and norms of the organization. However, not only does the system already suit China well, but there are three other areas where China notably possesses the ability to affect Interpol.

The first factor is the potential of Interpol’s partnership with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).  In May 2017, Interpol and China passed the “Declaration of Intent on Strategic Cooperation between Interpol and the Government of the People’s Republic of China” which listed 13 points of cooperation.[lxxxi] The document specifically mentions the BRI and how China needs to partner with international organizations to develop a multilateral cooperation platform in all aspects of the initiative.[lxxxii] Interpol pledges their policing capabilities and operational support to ensure that increased trade does not lead to increased opportunities for criminals.[lxxxiii] Furthermore, the declaration addresses goals such as enhancing worldwide border security for trade and travel, protecting vulnerable communities from exploitation, promoting integrity and reducing corruption, combating illicit markets, and adhering to the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.[lxxxiv] It is unclear to what extent Interpol will play a role in ensuring the safety of the BRI, but China will appreciate having multilateral support in its efforts to promote global trade and infrastructure.

One of the most prominent influences China exerts on Interpol is the continued isolation of Taiwan from membership in the organization. Interpol encompasses almost every country, but has refused to admit or even grant observer status to Taiwan.  In 2017, Interpol even granted membership to Palestine despite resistance from Israel. The exclusion of Taiwan means the world is missing a critical link in an otherwise integrated fight against threats such as terrorism and cyber-attacks, and the entire Taiwanese population is theoretically more vulnerable than the populations of other countries.[lxxxv] In 2017, Taiwan hosted the Summer Universiade Olympics with over 9,000 athletes competing from over 170 countries.[lxxxvi]  While everything played out smoothly, Interpol did not assist in the safety of the event and Taiwan was refused access to the I-24/7 database that provides countries with up-to-date information regarding criminals and crucial information.[lxxxvii] Taiwan overcomes these challenges through the help of its partners such as the U.S., but the continued exclusion of Taiwan constitutes a blind spot in the realm of global policing. While Interpol is unlikely to grant membership to Taiwan amid the One China policy, if Taiwan is struck by a high-profile attack that Interpol could have prevented, this could become a more contentious issue.

The final point of consideration is the role of Chinese-created technology and how improved policing equipment could affect Interpol.  China has invested large amounts of R&D funds to ensure that its policing technology is the most cutting-edge in the world. The use of facial recognition and artificial intelligence to analyze video evidence, track suspects, coordinate responses to emergencies, and even prevent crime has the potential to alter the way in which global policing is conducted.[lxxxviii] China is increasingly storing data on each of its citizens and compiling data of medical records, travel bookings, online purchases, and even social media comments.[lxxxix] China has begun exporting these technologies to several other countries, including the Citizen Security System project known as “BOL-110”  in Bolivia. As these new technologies advance, the approach to stopping international crime will have to adapt. Interpol could prove to be the best forum for China to play a role in establishing rules regarding the use of new technology on a global level.


This paper finds that China’s increased participation in Interpol has produced both progress in its pursuit of domestic goals, but also pushback from other countries and human rights groups when it is perceived as gaming the system. While countries such as China, Russia, and Turkey do use the RNS to track down political dissidents, the fear of China taking over Interpol is unfounded. The European-led top down structure of Interpol and the history of authoritarian abuse have led to a system of safeguards following the values of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The passage of a resolution that increases the scrutiny of the review process and the overturn of Isa Dulkun’s Red Notice serve as testaments that the core values of the organization remain intact. However, despite complications with political dissidents, China’s anti-graft and counterterrorism efforts receive a huge boost from multilateral engagement with Interpol. Red Notices, while not a perfect system, are an effective tool to fight crime. However, China’s use of extralegal methods to enhance Red Notices give further evidence that the country is not becoming a rule of law nation. Overall, China and Interpol have a symbiotic relationship kept in check through rule of law countries and human rights groups that place pressure on Interpol. Interpol’s involvement with the BRI, its relationship with Taiwan, and its adjustment to new technologies are all factors in the China-Interpol relationship that will benefit from further research. The fallout from China’s arrest of Meng and the long-term effect on the relationship between China and Interpol is another area that merits attention.

Insights on China’s evolving relationship with international institutions can be extrapolated from this analysis. China acknowledges that, as the world becomes more connected through globalization, one of the best ways to project its power and maintain its security is to increase its participation in multilateral institutions. China wishes to be seen not only as a great power, but also a responsible one. Even though China has the ability to influence these organizations in some capacities, many international institutions have established rules and norms that are difficult to change. Multilateral institutions remain a battleground where China will attempt to assert its might, but these organizations are not as malleable as pessimists might believe.

[i] The official abbreviation is INTERPOL, but is commonly referred to as Interpol.

[ii] J.J. Mearsheimer, “The False Promise of International Institutions,” International Security 19, no 3 (Winter 1994): 8.

[iii] In this paper, the name China is in reference to the People’s Republic of China

[iv] Mathieu Deflem, “Interpol,” The Encyclopedia of Global Studies (California: Sage Publications 2012), 956-958.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid.  

[vii]Gilead Amit, “How Interpol Became the Long Arm of Nazi Law During World War II,” ModernNotion, May 27, 2015, http://modernnotion.com/how-interpol-became-the-long-arm-of-nazi-law-during-world-war-ii/.

[viii] “Constitution of INTERPOL,” INTERPOL, accessed March 17, 2019, https://www.interpol.int/Who-we-are/Legal-framework/Legal-documents.

[ix] Deflem, “Interpol,” 956-958.

[x] Ted Bromund and David B. Kopel, “Necessary Reforms Can Keep Interpol Working in the U.S. Interest,” Backgrounder, The Heritage Foundation, No. 2861 (December 11, 2013): 3, https://www.heritage.org/global-politics/report/necessary-reforms-can-keep-interpol-working-the-us-interest.

[xi] “Constitution of INTERPOL.”

[xii] Meg Stalcup, “Interpol and the Emergence of Global Policing,” In Policing and Contemporary Governance: The Anthropology of Police in Practice edited by William Garriott (New York: Palgrave MacMillan): p. 237.

[xiii] Stalcup, “Interpol and the Emergence of Global Policing,” 248.

[xiv] Ibid.

[xv] Ibid.

[xvi] Josh Margolin, “Beyond the Myth of Interpol, the world’s police organization,” ABCnews, October 6, 2018, https://abcnews.go.com/International/myth-interpol-worlds-police-organization/story?id=58325721.

[xvii] Deflem, “Interpol,” 956-958.

[xviii] Ibid.

[xix] Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, “Interpol is Helping Enforce China’s Political Purges,” Foreign Policy, April 21, 2017, https://foreignpolicy.com/2017/04/21/interpol-is-helping-enforce-chinas-political-purges/.

[xx] Bromund and Kopel, “Necessary Reforms Can Keep Interpol Working in the U.S. Interest.”

[xxi] “Constitution of INTERPOL.”

[xxii] Ibid.

[xxiii] With an exemption of the President who receives a 4-year term

[xxiv] Ibid.

[xxv] Bromund and Kopel, “Necessary Reforms Can Keep Interpol Working in the U.S. Interest.”

[xxvi] “INTERPOL member country statutory contributions 2017,” INTERPOL, accessed March 17, 2019, https://www.interpol.int/Who-we-are/Our-funding.

[xxvii] Ibid.

[xxviii] Ibid.

[xxix] “Xi Jinping’s Speech at the Opening Ceremony of the 86th General Assembly of Interpol,” (习近平在国际刑警组织第八十六届全体大会开幕式上的主旨演讲) Xinhua, September 26, 2017, http://www.xinhuanet.com//2017-09/26/c_1121726066.htm.

[xxx] “Interpol applauds China’s increasingly important role in international police cooperation,” Xinhua, September 27, 2017, http://www.xinhuanet.com//english/2017-09/27/c_136642942.htm.

[xxxi] Ibid.

[xxxii] Mimi Lau, “China involved in 3,000 Interpol investigations, state media says,” South China Morning Post, September 25, 2017, https://www.scmp.com/news/china/policies-politics/article/2112773/china-involved-3000-interpol-investigations-state-media.

[xxxiii] “Xi Jinping’s Speech at the Opening Ceremony of the 86th General Assembly of Interpol.”

[xxxiv] Lau, “China involved in 3,000 Interpol investigations, state media says.”

[xxxv] Ibid.

[xxxvi] Allen-Ebrahimian, “Interpol is Helping Enforce China’s Political Purges.”

[xxxvii] Ibid.

[xxxviii] Zhang Yiqian, “More fugitives are persuaded to surrender from overseas as China strengthens international anti-graft cooperation,” Global Times, October 17, 2017, http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1070724.shtml.

[xxxix] Allen-Ebrahimian, “Interpol is Helping Enforce China’s Political Purges.”

[xl] Ben Blachard and Christian Shephard, “China to push for greater cooperation on graft, terrorism at Interpol meeting,” Reuters, September 23, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-interpol/china-to-push-for-greater-cooperation-on-graft-terrorism-at-interpol-meeting-idUSKCN1BZ019?feedType=RSS&feedName=worldNews&utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=facebook.

[xli] “Meng Hongwei’s Speech at the Opening Ceremony of the 86th General Assembly of Interpol,” (孟宏伟在国际刑警组织第八十六届全体大会开幕式上的主旨演讲) The Ministry of Public Security of the People’s Republic of China, September 26, 2017, http://www.mps.gov.cn/n2253534/n2253535/c5796062/content.html.

[xlii] Blachard and Shephard, “China to push for greater cooperation on graft, terrorism at Interpol meeting.”

[xliii] Allen-Ebrahimian, “Interpol is Helping Enforce China’s Political Purges.”

[xliv] “Xi Jinping’s Speech at the Opening Ceremony of the 86th General Assembly of Interpol.”

[xlv] “Red Notices,” INTERPOL, accessed May 1, 2018, https://www.interpol.int/en/How-we-work/Notices/View-Red-Notices.

[xlvi] Allen-Ebrahimian, “Interpol is Helping Enforce China’s Political Purges.”

[xlvii] Ibid.

[xlviii] Stalcup, “Interpol and the Emergence of Global Policing,” 242.

[xlix] Stalcup, “Interpol and the Emergence of Global Policing,” 231.

[l] Bromund and Kopel, “Necessary Reforms Can Keep Interpol Working in the U.S. Interest.”

[li] Kathy Gilsinan, “Interpol at 100: Does the World’s Police Force Work,” The Atlantic, May 12 2014, accessed May 1, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/05/interpol-the-global-police-force-that-isnt/362086/.

[lii] Allen-Ebrahimian, “Interpol is Helping Enforce China’s Political Purges.”

[liii] “China: Families of Interpol Targets Harassed,” Human Rights Watch, January 31, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/01/31/china-families-interpol-targets-harassed.

[liv] Ibid.

[lv] Ibid.

[lvi] As of May 1, 2018

[lvii] The exact number of current red notices is not known, but if China has been submitting approximately 200 red notices a year the past few years, the number should be over 1,000

[lviii] Andrew Small et al. “Is China a Credible Partner in Fighting Terrorism,” Foreign Policy, November 24, 2015, https://foreignpolicy.com/2015/11/24/china-islamic-state-terrorism-war-beijing-paris-us/.

[lix] Chris Buckly and Austin Ramzy, “China’s Detention Camps for Muslims Turn to Forced Labor,” New York Times, December 16, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/16/world/asia/xinjiang-china-forced-labor-camps-uighurs.html.

[lx] Bruno Min, “China and Turkey are using Interpol to Crack Down on Dissent,” Newsweek, March 1, 2018, https://www.newsweek.com/china-and-turkey-are-using-interpol-crack-down-dissent-826563.

[lxi] Joyce Huang, “Uighur Arrest in Italy Sparks Fears of Chinese Interference in Europe,” Voice of America, August 3, 2017, https://www.voanews.com/a/italy-detention-of-exiled-uighur-activist-a-wake-up-call-as-china-flexes-muscles-rights-activists-say/3970690.html.

[lxii] Ibid.

[lxiii] “Dolkun Isa: Terrorist or freedom fighter,” Business-Standard, April 25, 2016, https://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/dolkun-isa-terrorist-or-freedom-fighter-116042500511_1.html.

[lxiv] Ibid.

[lxv] “Repository of Practice: Application of Article 3 of INTERPOL’s Constitution in the context of the processing of information via INTERPOL’s channels,” INTERPOL, Second Edition (Feb. 2010): p. 14

[lxvi] “Repository of Practice: Application of Article 3 of INTERPOL’s Constitution in the context of the processing of information via INTERPOL’s channels,” p. 18

[lxvii] “Repository of Practice: Application of Article 3 of INTERPOL’s Constitution in the context of the processing of information via INTERPOL’s channels,” INTERPOL, 27-28, https://www.interpol.int/Who-we-are/Legal-framework/Legal-documents.

[lxviii] Lauren Hilgers, “The Mystery of the Exiled Billionaire Whistle-Blower,” New York Times, January 10, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/10/magazine/the-mystery-of-the-exiled-billionaire-whistleblower.html.

[lxix] Ibid.

[lxx] Allen-Ebrahimian, “Interpol is Helping Enforce China’s Political Purges.”

[lxxi] Hilgers, “The Mystery of the Exiled Billionaire Whistle-Blower.”

[lxxii] “Repository of Practice: Application of Article 3 of INTERPOL’s Constitution in the context of the processing of information via INTERPOL’s channels,” 21.

[lxxiii] Zhang, “More fugitives are persuaded to surrender from overseas as China strengthens international anti-graft cooperation.”

[lxxiv] INTERPOL Resolution No. 6 AG-2016-RES-06,” INTERPOL, https://www.interpol.int/content/download/33521/428059/version/4/file/AG-2016-RES-06%20E%20GTI%20FINAL%20REPORT.pdf.


[lxxvi] Libby McVeigh and Bruno Min, “Submission to the Working Group on the Processing of Information,” Fair Trials International, December 10, 2015, https://www.fairtrials.org/wp-content/uploads/Fair-Trials-Submission-to-GTI-Dec-2015.pdf?platform=hootsuite.

[lxxvii] INTERPOL Resolution No. 6 AG-2016-RES-06.”

[lxxviii] Ibid.

[lxxix] Ibid.

[lxxx] Ibid.

[lxxxi] “Declaration of Intent on Strategic Cooperation between INTEROL and the Government of the People’s Republic of China,” INTERPOL, https://www.interpol.int/content/download/35004/456581/version/2/file/Declaration%20of%20Intent%20on%20Strategic%20Cooperation%20between%20INTERPOL%20and%20the%20Government%20of%20the%20People%E2%80%99s%20Republic%20of%20China.pdf.

[lxxxii] Ibid.

[lxxxiii] Ibid.

[lxxxiv] Ibid.

[lxxxv] Bonnie Glaser and Jacqueline Vitello, “Taiwan’s Marginalzed Role in International Security: Paying a Price,” Washington, DC: Center for Strategic & International Studies (Jan. 2015): 1.

[lxxxvi] Glaser and Vitello, “Taiwan’s Marginalzed Role in International Security: Paying a Price,” 4.

[lxxxvii] Ibid.

[lxxxviii] Simon Denyer, “China’s watchful eye,” Washington Post, January 7, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/world/wp/2018/01/07/feature/in-china-facial-recognition-is-sharp-end-of-a-drive-for-total-surveillance/?utm_term=.ab0e8732677d.

[lxxxix] Ibid.

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