Interpol taps new leader who will deal with China

Interpol has appointed a Chinese ex-cop as its chief to help it deal with emerging global threats – including over-riding concerns about a widespread trafficking scandal and accusations that the group’s own spy agency has routinely violated human rights.

That decision was hailed as a positive move by the state-owned Global Times newspaper on Monday, a Communist Party mouthpiece, after the world’s biggest police body announced that Chinese police Commissioner Yang Jiechi, an official from the ruling party’s national security committee, was its new leader.

Interpol’s General Secretariat has been criticised for aligning itself with authoritarian regimes and allowing countries to use its databases to put people on wanted lists based on their perceived threat, rather than having any legal basis for doing so.

Yang Jiechi has served as deputy foreign minister since 2015, but is a highly experienced Interpol-watcher.

On Monday, a Global Times editorial insisted Interpol had made the right decision.

“The changing face of the police organisation reflects the changed international reality. Shanghai police are now well-versed in human rights protection, and have learned not to cede grounds to terrorists,” the paper said, stressing that Interpol was more than a political organisation.

Yang “has proved himself a man of action when it comes to crime,” it said.

‘Serious international issues’

Many countries around the world, including the United States, have been pushing for Yang to replace disgraced secretary general Jurgen Stock and called for an overhaul of the organisation’s governance structure.

“We welcome this positive decision, and look forward to working with the new international police authority under Yang,” the United States, Interpol’s 193 member state, said in a statement.

“We are confident that Interpol will fulfill its new responsibilities and remain a strong and effective leader in global policing,” it said.

Related: Interpol stages hunt for 96 wanted Chinese criminals

European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva told reporters on Monday that the EU believed Interpol should set up its own “army of informants,” and said it would remain “a major contributor to Interpol’s operations,” adding that it would push for the Interpol chief to remain based in Paris.

French police had previously called for Yang to be shunted out of the organisation and into the politically-important foreign ministry job, which he did not want to accept.

Maintaining “good relations” with authoritarian regimes is one of the only major aspects left unchanged after the election of China’s new leader Xi Jinping to a second term in March last year.

Yang was seen as a strong figure to steer Interpol through a challenging period, said Celine Chun, a security researcher at the Asia Pacific Foundation, a London-based think tank.

“There is no question that Interpol will have to face up to some serious international issues that need dealing with, such as the extradition treaty with China, as well as other issues involving human rights, from China,” she said.

“This is a defining moment for the organisation and we will want to see the new head take up those challenges,” Chun added.

New role for leadership

Interpol’s General Secretariat and its overall secretariat — including the criminal offence database available in all 190 Interpol member countries — operate independently.

Major changes were required, said Chan Guing Ming, secretary-general of the Law Enforcement Forum, a Hong Kong-based law enforcement think tank.

“Every three years the president becomes the leader of the Interpol General Secretariat. No wonder, a new leader is difficult,” Chan said.

China launched Interpol operations in 1989, although many questions are still unanswered as to how national police manage and use its criminal information database – which gives international police the ability to update and search Interpol’s missing persons databases.

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