Commentary: The Detained Interpol Chief

G.Flanagan/The Phillipian

China’s big brother, a magnificent magician, “loves” his subjects in a variety of humorous and unexpected ways. Once, he made Winnie the Pooh instantly vanish from Chinese Internet because the bear’s cartoon facial features resembled those of President Xi Jinping. Another time, with just a wave of his hand, a few unfortunate lawyers and writers were instantly teleported onto television, sobbing uncontrollably and confessing their sins. Do not underestimate his creativity or the limit of his reach, for earlier this month he detained Hongwei Meng, President of the International Criminal Police Organization. This act demonstrates the Chinese Communist Party’s attempts to overexert control over its members by using the latest amendment to the Chinese constitution which sets up the National Supervisory Commission.

According to a series of reports by the BBC, Meng first disappeared in late September after leaving the headquarters of Interpol in France. Surprisingly, Interpol merely stated on Twitter that they were “aware” and would “not comment further.” Only on October 7 was his detainment finally confirmed by the Chinese. On the next day, officials released a notice claiming that Meng was charged with bribery and was under investigation of the newly established National Supervisory Commission.

It should be noted that the process by which Meng detained was quite different from those of other senior officials. Before Meng’s detention, Chinese authorities relied heavily on its regular judicial system. For example, the highest-ranked official ever detained, Yongkang Zhou (a former member of China’s powerful Politburo Standing Committee), was arrested by the police in 2014 after a warrant issued from the Chinese Supreme People’s Procuratorate in the same year. This judicial system, however, did not participate in Meng’s arrest. He was surreptitiously seized without a publicized warrant or a notice, and it remains unclear whether or not he was even arrested by the police. The process was secret, quick, and unprecedented.

Y.Wei/The Phillipian

It turns out that Meng was one of the first officials detained by the new National Supervisory Commission. Established in March 2018, the Commission puts all officials under the direct inspection of the Chinese Communist Party, but its exact duties, operations, and powers were made intentionally murky. Not many expected that the Commission would become another secretive police force controlled by the Party, similar to the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs in the former Soviet Union. Neither did many predict that the commission would exercise its power outside the offices and homes of Communist officials.

In essence, the Communist Party has established a commission to censor its internal affairs. But why did they waste all this effort when they already have total control over China’s judicial system? This is because the new Commission is far more efficient and seemingly legitimate compared to the previous judicial system when it comes to arresting people. Previously, the process would begin with unofficial investigations led by the Communist Party’s Central Discipline Inspection Committee. The procuratorate would issue a warrant, the police would arrest the official, and eventually, the court would try them. This onerous and public process — requiring many departments and ministries to cooperate smoothly — provided a window for those targeted to flee. Additionally, this process was not wholly constitutional, as the detainment relied on the judgment of a non-governmental committee that belonged to the Communist Party, not the court or the procuratorate. In contrast, the new Commission is a legalized national agency. In other words, the Party has technically legitimized its previous shady doings and, as shown through Meng’s detainment, merges the duties of the judicial system and makes the process of detention simpler and more secretive. This enables the Communist Party to bypass the fair process of judicial detainment. The real duty of the Commission, therefore, is to impose internal control not by official supervision but by force, as with the Meng’s quick, discreet arrest.

The recent detention signifies the increasing control of the ruling group of the Communist Party over the rest of its members. Though the key organization behind the detention — the National Supervisory Commission — appears to be superficially legitimate, it still lacks a fair detainment process. The recent death of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi tells a similar story of a country moving toward its goals of internal control without practicing judicial processes. These examples warn us that unlimited power held by a ruling group may deteriorate the judicial basis of a country under the disguise of “internal control,” and threaten the rights of the people. No matter how evil a detained “criminal” might appear to be, we should never allow their incarceration if the process of their detention is unlawful and authoritarian.

Jason Huang is a  new  Lower from Shanghai, China. Contact the author at