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Top Chinese police official chosen as Interpol head

A top Chinese public security official was elected president of the international police cooperation organisation Interpol on Thursday, a move observers said could boost China’s efforts to repatriate fugitive corrupt officials.

But human rights watchers voiced concern that China could use the world’s biggest law enforcement agency to its advantage to pursue dissidents abroad.

Meng Hongwei, a vice-minister for public security, was chosen to head the agency at its general assembly in Bali, Indonesia.

Meng, 63, the first Chinese to hold the post, has headed Interpol’s National Central Bureau for China since he became a deputy public security minister in 2004.

Observers said Meng’s election could help Beijing in its high-profile pursuit of corrupt, fugitive officials, an effort stepped up in recent years as part of President Xi Jinping’s unprecedented crackdown on corruption.

Since China launched the international manhunt “Operation Fox Hunt” in 2014, more than 2,000 economic fugitives have been brought back to China, including 342 former officials.

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University of Hong Kong assistant professor Zhu Jiangnan said Meng’s presidency could help improve China’s links with other countries, potentially resulting in more repatriations of fugitives.

“China needs more international cooperation, such as information, data and manpower sharing, to successfully catch fugitives overseas,” Zhu said.

Meng vowed to work with all of Interpol’s member states to make it a “stronger platform for global police cooperation” and improve regional and global police coordination, Xinhua reported.

Zunyou Zhou, a senior researcher at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law, agreed that Meng’s new job would aid China in its hunt for fugitives.

But the “biggest hurdle” was still the absence of formal extradition treaties between China and Western countries, especially the United States. “The Chinese government has to convince these countries that the corruption suspects, if repatriated, can receive a fair trial,” Zhou said.

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Human rights watchers warned that China could also abuse the platform to hunt down overseas dissidents.

“It’s worrying since China has in the past misused the Interpol system by issuing red notices against Uygur human rights activists – such as Dolkun Isa,” Amnesty International China researcher William Nee said. “It’s also potentially worrying because China has stepped up its efforts to return dissidents living abroad in countries such as Thailand.”

Isa is an exiled activist from Xinjiang and was granted refugee status by Germany, where he now lives and works as the executive chairman of the Munich-based World Uygur Congress. He was put on a list of Uygur “terrorists” by China in 2003 and is subject to an Interpol red notice at the request of Beijing