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Thus, Meng’s election in 2017 to the position of Interpol president, though a largely ceremonial post, raised concerns that China would use Meng’s position to pursue political dissidents through the issuance of Interpol red notices. A red notice is roughly equivalent to an international arrest warrant requested by an individual government, and Interpol approves requests based not on an assessment of the target’s guilt but rather on whether the requesting government followed the appropriate laws and regulations in making the request. This makes the red-notice system notoriously easy to abuse; Russia, China, Turkey, Venezuela, and some Central Asian nations are known to request politically motivated red notices targeting political foes and journalists. Interpol member nations are not required to detain or extradite those with a red notice against them, though many do.
And indeed, shortly after Meng became president, Interpol issued a red notice for Guo Wengui, an exiled Chinese billionaire who had recently threatened to release compromising information on leading members of the Communist Party.
But not everything went so smoothly for China, or for Meng. In February, Interpol rescinded a red notice, originally issued at China’s request, for Dolkun Isa, the Europe-based president of World Uyghur Congress, a group that advocates for a beleaguered Chinese ethnic minority. Beijing claims that Isa is a terrorist, and China has frequently requested that European governments arrest and deport him.
Some observers noted that about six weeks after Isa’s red notice was revoked, Meng was removed from his post as a member of the public-security bureau’s party committee, the party organ embedded inside the bureau to provide leadership and ideological guidance, leading to speculation that the party was unhappy with Meng for allowing Interpol to remove the notice.
“Look at Xinjiang,” wrote Bill Bishop, the author of the influential Sinocism newsletter, referring to the Chinese region where an estimated 1 million Muslims are being held without due process. “Does Beijing care if there is fleeting concern over the fate of their Interpol appointee?”
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These days, Beijing seems far less concerned about the opinion of the liberal West than it once was. Rather than continuing to try to hide the existence of its mass detention camps in Xinjiang, Chinese officials are declaring them to be a true societal good. In the contested South China Sea, China now rarely claims that it aims to uphold international law—instead, it emphasizes that no one has the right to criticize its island building and militarization there. Might makes right, as it were.
At the same time, Beijing wields greater sway over international institutions than ever before. That means stakeholders in the international system would do well to ask themselves what price they might pay if they offer leadership positions to Chinese Communist Party members. It’s likely that as China promotes its authoritarian system around the world, one will increasingly see the party justify and even tout its realpolitik approach to international power. A liberal world order built on human rights and rule of law will need to find an effective response—and soon.