Taiwanese Criminal Investigation Bureau chief administrator Wu Dong-Wen on the left, senior officer Dustin Lee on the right(Jim Geraghty)
25 Oct 2023
On the menu today: Interpol has 195 member countries, but Taiwan is not one of them because the international police organization adheres to the perspective of Beijing — that Taiwan is not a real country, just a rogue province.
Interpol for Me, but Not for Thee
TAIPEI, Taiwan — One of the reasons the Taiwanese government flies in journalists from other countries several times a year is because it is eager to show that the country gets absolutely screwed on the world stage by other countries and global institutions that are afraid of antagonizing Beijing.
Taiwan boasts low crime rates that almost every other country on Earth would envy. One international survey ranked it the third-safest country in the world, another listed Taipei as the fourth-safest large city in the world, and the U.S. State Department consistently ranks Taiwan in the highest tier for combatting human trafficking. In its most recent report, the State Department cited Taiwan as a bright spot in a “bleak landscape,” stating the government’s law enforcement “located and repatriated hundreds of individuals from cyber scam operations in Cambodia and indicted dozens of Taiwanese individuals allegedly complicit in their initial recruitment.”
And yet, representatives of Taiwan’s law-enforcement community aren’t even allowed to have observer status within Interpol, because that would upset China.
That policy is stupid. It is stupid because it lets Beijing’s political agenda get in the way of stopping criminal threats such as terrorism, cybercrime, and transnational crime organizations that don’t stop at international borders. It’s also yet another example of how international organizations, by allowing representatives of authoritarian regimes to participate, end up getting co-opted and used by those authoritarian regimes.
Taiwan joined Interpol in 1961 but was forced to withdraw in 1984 after the organization switched and chose to recognize the regime in Beijing as the legitimate government of China. Ever since then, Taiwanese law enforcement has been on the outside, looking in.
Leaders of Taiwan’s Criminal Investigation Bureau — roughly the equivalent of the American FBI — were eager to give us an earful about how their job of tracking down gangsters and combatting fraud was more difficult because pressure from China kept them out of the world’s preeminent international crime-fighting alliance.
“What changes will it make if Taiwan becomes a full member of Interpol? For now, we don’t have any access to the important intelligence information from Interpol,” lamented Dustin Lee, a senior officer in CIB, through a translator. “For example, we don’t get to have access to the [databases] of travel documents. If our nationals lose their travel documents, we don’t know where they will end up. Also, we do not have access to Red Notices from Interpol. If a major criminal comes to Taiwan, there is no way for us to know that.”
Interpol has 19 major databases, covering everything from convicted child abusers to forensics data to DNA to facial recognition to stolen or missing travel documents to stolen property to vessels to works of art to firearms and ballistics data to piracy. And right now, Taiwan’s law enforcement isn’t allowed to access any of that, or to share its information with those databases.
“Based upon our past experience, we could not have real-time access to this kind of information, and for that reason, some terrorists came inside Taiwan’s borders, and we didn’t find out until three to six months later, because of the notification of other countries.” Lee said. He declined to share further details on that case.
Taiwan’s CIB does have liaison offices with police counterparts in other countries, including the U.S., Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Japan, and several others. Lee said that Taiwanese law enforcement had compiled a “chemist list” — a dossier of those involved in drug production — but because they’re not members of Interpol, they can only share it with law enforcement in countries where they have established relationships.
“Crime knows no borders,” CIB chief administrator Wu Dong-Wen said through a translator. “We have every willingness to cooperate with the world. If Taiwan can join Interpol, we will try our very best to fight against global crimes.”
Taiwan knows that it is unlikely to get full membership in Interpol anytime soon, so for now, it’s simply asking for observer status, just to get its foot in the door.
Interpol will meet for its 91st General Assembly in Vienna, Austria, from November 28 to December 1. Last year, Secretary General Jurgen Stock, in his second five-year term, said there was nothing that could be done. “In 1984, the Interpol General Assembly recognized the People’s Republic of China as the sole representation of China. As such, Interpol recognizes Taiwan is part of China and as China is a member of Interpol, Interpol cannot grant Taiwan observer status in General Assembly.”
But the United States might be preparing to use some of its influence to push Interpol on the exclusion of Taiwan. This summer, the U.S. House of Representatives — not exactly known for bipartisan cooperation and productivity these days — unanimously passed legislation requiring U.S. agencies to counter Beijing’s attempts to exclude Taiwan from participating in international organizations.
“For too long, the People’s Republic of China has distorted policies and procedures at international organizations to assert its sovereignty claims over Taiwan, often to the detriment of global health and security efforts,” Virginia Democratic congressman Gerry Connolly said in a released statement. The bill’s cosponsors represent a delightfully wide range of the American political spectrum, from Andy Barr of Kentucky on the right to Ted Lieu of California on the left. Senators Chris Van Hollen (D., Md.) and Mitt Romney (R., Utah) have introduced companion legislation in the U.S. Senate.
Right now, the status quo works well for China — it prevents Taiwan from being recognized or treated like an independent state — and it works out well for criminals. It just doesn’t work well for Taiwanese law enforcement or the victims of crimes.
If Interpol can’t or won’t prioritize fighting transnational crime over international disputes . . . what is the point of that organization?
The Office of Flattering Jim’s Ego
On Tuesday, my group of international journalists met with Mainland Affairs Council deputy minister Jyh-horng Jan, who has spent about 30 years of his life dealing with the relationship with China from positions in the Taiwanese government.
I asked the deputy minister what the mood and atmosphere were like in his meetings with his Chinese counterparts. He responded that it varied from meeting to meeting, before saying something that surprised me.
“For instance, recently the anti-espionage law was passed,” Jan said, referring to Beijing’s enactment of new laws this spring that dramatically broadened the definition of spying and banned the transfer of any information related to national security. The law did not define what constitutes information related to Chinese national security, leading Westerners to fear that almost anyone discussing any topic remotely connected to national security could be charged at will. “In accordance with this law, many Chinese people have been detained. Because of this, we put out a public statement condemning their actions. That made me an enemy to them.”
Jan paused for the translation, then said, “So, for instance, you wrote an article on the origin of Covid-19, and just because you told the truth, you are also an enemy [of China].”
In our meeting, I had not mentioned my lab-leak reporting, so either people in Taiwan’s government read some of my reporting back in that stretch from 2020 to 2022, or deputy minister Jyh-horng Jan is extremely well-briefed for his meetings with foreign journalists.
“This is very similar to what I do, so publicly, I have to tell the truth in public statements,” Jan continued. “For example, last December 8, China dropped their zero-Covid policies overnight. That was done without any early warnings or preparation in medical sector. In the three months following that, until the ease of the pandemic, the number of total deaths from the drop of zero-Covid policies — the Chinese authorities don’t dare to release this number — I actually made an estimate for them, and I think that number is between 4 million and 10 million. Just because I told the truth, I am sure that they have no fondness for me at all.”