Meng Hongwei’s Disappearance is Part of Xi Jinping’s ‘New Era’ of Chinese Impunity

Published October 9th, 2018 - 01:58 GMT
Meng Hongwei (AFP/FILE)
Meng Hongwei (AFP/FILE)


By Ty Joplin


The president of Interpol, the police force tasked to ensure justice and accountability throughout most of the world, was quietly arrested and is being held in China on vague charges experts say are politically motivated. Before he was apprehended, Mr Meng asked his wife to call him over WhatsApp. He then sent her a knife emoji, a sign she interpreted to mean Meng was in mortal danger.

Many details surrounding Mr Meng’s suspicious disappearance remain unsolved, but one aspect of the development is clear: China’s calculated move to detain Mr Meng reflects its growing boldness to defy international norms, and Interpol’s acquiescence to his arrest shows China may not face any severe consequences for its action.

From its arrest of Mr Meng to its ongoing crackdown of millions of Uyghur Muslims, China is demonstrating its ability to act with relative impunity.


China's Political Persecution of Meng 


Meng is a Chinese citizen who, in addition to being the figurehead of Interpol, was also the vice minister of the Ministry of Public Security. This makes him a top figure in the CCP and one of its elite members helping to direct China’s sprawling security apparatuses.

Experts and advocates familiar with China’s strategy of detaining political personnel say Meng is likely being held in a form of detention called liuzhi.

“Liuzhi ’is a very new system, but we can speculate pretty clearly [about] the kind of treatment people are subjected to,” Michael Caster, a human rights advocate with Safeguard Defenders told The Guardian. Caster details that “prolonged sleep deprivation, forced malnourishment, stress positions, beatings, psychological abuse, threats to family members certainly, oftentimes leading to forced confessions,” are all part of Liuzhi.

Sophie Richardson, who heads Human Rights Watch’s China division, told Al Bawaba over the phone that CCP leadership may fear Meng has sensitive information that was urgent enough to quickly detain and silence him to prevent embarrassment to the party.

“This is effectively [a] politically motivated prosecution.The way that this investigation and prosecution has been carried, it smacks of political motivation,” she furthered.

The circumstances surrounding his disappearance are indeed strange: rather than publicly announcing they had detained Meng on charges of bribery, China waited until he was reported missing by his wife, nearly a week later. Then, when they did finally confirm they were holding him, they did not specify the charges against him until a second statement was released. And even then, specifics are nowhere to be found.

Interpol, for their part, appeared acquiescent to China. Rather than refusing the resignation letter, which was not verified to be written by Hongwei and was likely coerced out of him by CCP authorities, Interpol accepted it and moved on. In a quick, procedural statement released by Interpol, the agency announces a replacement for Meng and did not mention any of the circumstances surrounding his disappearance.


Interpol’s statement

Interpol, as well as French authorities, have said they are investigating the matter, but they are mostly silent on Meng’s current status and have not called into question the legitimacy of the charges against Meng.

Meng Hongwei, a senior member of CCP, was always a particularly vulnerable president of Interpol thanks to his concurrent job as China’s vice minister of the Ministry of Public Security. The latter position made him beholden to the will of the CCP, effectively undermining his ability to perform his job as president of Interpol.


The Broader Context: China’s ‘New Era’

China’s New Era (Rami Khouri/Al Bawaba)

Analysts have been arguing that China must recognize Hongwei to be an urgent enough security risk to neutralize, as doing so damages to its international reputation. After all, it seems hard to believe a country can hold the head of a global police agency and come out of the scandal unscathed.

But that perspective may be mistaken, as China has increasingly felt emboldened to take drastic measures that curtail human rights and transparency; things that should hurt its international standing but are not.


In the Ministry of Public Security’s statement detailing its outrage with Meng and the charges against him, loyalty to the party and the so-called ‘New Era’ of China were regularly invoked.

One particular sentence stands out for Sophie Richardson, who translated it from Chinese to English. “The purpose of bureau of Public Security in the ‘New Era’ is to uphold political security and overall stability of society,” the statement reads.

In other words according to Richardson, the mandate of the bureau to detain Meng is related to political security rather than law enforcement, which in the context of China, means security of the CCP.

The ‘New Era’ is a phrase found throughout the statement, one that likely refers to the current rule of China’s President Xi Jinping. Jinping has led a series of politically motivated arrests and purges labeled as ‘anti-corruption investigations.’

The most tangible evidence that China has entered a ‘New Era’ can be found in Xinjiang, China, where Xi has been overseeing a vicious crackdown on ethnic minorities in the region. For millions of Uyghur and Kazakh Muslims, the ‘New Era’ of China feels more like an open-air prison than a modern society.

Up to three million Muslims are being held in concentration and ‘re-education’ camps throughout Xinjiang, and China enforces assimilationist policies against ethnic minorities.


A concentration camp in Xinjiang’s massive expansion, documented (Shawn Zhang/Medium)

Adrian Zenz, an expert on Chinese ethnic relations, told Al Bawaba that the goal of the crackdown is to “strongly intimidate the population in order to exert control and ensure social compliance, and secondly to discourage any practice of religion, driving people towards secularization.”

Tens have died in the camps, and the region is virtually blocked off from the world. Uyghurs abroad reports that they cannot communicate with loved ones in Xinjiang and they fear family members are locked inside the extralegal concentration camps.

So far, the international community has not taken meaningful steps to curtail this crackdown, and satellite imagery shows China has been rapidly expanding their camps, to house thousands more in each.

International leaders, save a few from the E.U. and U.S., have been mostly silent: China’s massive Belt and Road Initiative, which aims to link up the majority of countries on Earth to China’s economy, has not taken a hit from the crackdown. Even Muslim-majority countries like Syria, Yemen, Jordan and Indonesia have gladly accepted massive loans from China without voicing concern on China’ treatment of its own Muslim populations.

If its systematic locking up and surveillance of millions of Uyghurs has not damaged its reputation in the international community, arresting the president of Interpol likely won’t either.

That China has the ability to do both, breaking international norms and violating human rights in the process, points to an ongoing failure of the international community to check back China’s misuse of its power.


Meng Hongwei's Strange Disappearance and Current Status

Meng’s last texts to his wife

On Sept 25, Meng arrived in China and shortly thereafter, he sent a text via WhatsApp to his wife, Grace Hongwei. He told her to call him, and then sent a knife emoji. Suspecting the emoji to be a sign he is in grave danger, Grace contacted the authorities and Meng was eventually reported missing.

Once news hit that the president of Interpol was missing in China, rumors swirled that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had secretly abducted him; rumors that turned out to be true.

China admitted it had arrested and detained Meng on vague allegations that he violated Chinese law, without saying more. Then on Sunday Oct 7, Interpol received a letter announcing Meng’s resignation as president of the international policing agency. They accepted the resignation and replaced him with  Kim Jong Yang, a senior vice president, who will serve out the rest of Meng’s term.


Meng’s wife, Grace, shows the last messages she exchanged with Meng (AFP)

A day later on Monday Oct 8, China’s Ministry of Public Security released a statement in Chinese providing slightly more details as to why they arrested one of the most powerful global policemen in the world. The statement alleges that Meng took bribes and had generally besmirched the image of the CCP, the ruling party in China.

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