BEIJING -- Interpol opened its main international annual meeting in China on Tuesday amid concerns that Beijing is using its growing influence over the police network to pursue political foes overseas.
President Xi Jinping said in a speech to the Interpol General Assembly that China wants to work with other countries and organizations to achieve "global security governance."
However, New York-based Human Rights Watch said Interpol needs to address what it called China's misuse of the organization's "red notice" system to seek the arrest and extradition of wanted people.
The election of Chinese Vice Public Security Minister Meng Hongwei as Interpol's president last year alarmed rights advocates who cite abuses, opacity and political manipulation within China's legal system.
China has used red notices to demand the return of scores of former officials and private business people it accuses of financial crimes, part of Xi's sweeping crackdown on corruption at all levels.
Yet, it has also used the system to flag cases bearing a decided political taint, making the individuals involved vulnerable to law enforcement action by foreign government bodies.
Human Rights Watch raised the case of Dolkun Isa, an activist in Germany for the Turkic-Muslim Uighur ethnic group native to China's far-western Xinjiang region. It said Isa has had trouble traveling internationally since a red notice was issued against him more than a decade ago. China routinely accuses overseas Uighur advocates of supporting terrorism while providing little evidence to back up their claims.
The group also mentioned U.S.-based activist Wang Zaigang, whom it said appeared to have been targeted with a red notice in response to his activities promoting Chinese democracy.
Those served with red notices risk torture and other forms of ill-treatment given China's record of abuse, Human Rights Watch said.
"Interpol claims to operate according to international human rights standards, but China has already shown a willingness to manipulate the system," Sophie Richardson, the group's China director, was quoted as saying in a news release. "And with China's vice-minister of public security ... as president, Interpol's credibility is on the line," Richardson said.
The Ministry of Public Security is China's main police agency, charged not only with preventing crime but with silencing and detaining critics of the ruling Communist Party, often outside the letter of the law.
Chinese politics expert Willy Lam said China has been using its economic heft to influence groups such as Interpol to further the party's foreign and domestic policy aims.
Lam pointed to cases where the line has blurred between accusations of corruption and apparent attempts to retaliate against those who make allegations against members of the communist leadership, such as outspoken businessman Guo Wengui.
Pressure on Guo has been building since April when a red notice was issued seeking his arrest on corruption-related charges. Chinese authorities sentenced several of his employees for fraud in June and have also opened an investigation into rape charges against Guo brought by a former assistant.
In recent months, Guo has become a widely followed social media presence by serving up sensational, if mostly unverifiable, tales of corruption and scandal within the Communist Party's innermost sanctum, including among Xi's closest allies.
"China has turned Interpol into another venue for projecting its power," Lam said. "They've put a lot of investment into pursuing fugitives abroad, including those wanted for political reasons."