Taiwan’s exclusion from Interpol is the world’s loss
27 Jun 2024|

Politicking by the Chinese Communist Party has blocked Taiwanese membership of Interpol since 1984, preventing the timely sharing of criminal information and intelligence. The absence of Taiwan in the world’s largest international police organisation weakens global security, to the advantage of organised crime.

Placating the CCP is an insufficient reason for excluding Taiwan from Interpol. To improve global security, Taiwan should finally be granted observer status at Interpol’s 92nd General Assembly in Glasgow in November 2024. It must be given at least a limited capacity to cooperate with Interpol and better combat transnational crime.

Taiwan is a crucial law enforcement stakeholder in the Asia-Pacific region with critical intelligence and operational capabilities. Its police forces, overseen by the National Police Agency (NPA), are known for their professionalism and advanced expertise. Abroad, the NPA actively engages in international efforts against terrorism, cybercrime, human trafficking and drug smuggling. Little wonder that Taiwan has some of the lowest rates of crime in the world.

Despite this success, Taiwanese nationals are still victims of crime at home and abroad, and some are involved in transnational organised crime. The NPA’s absence from Interpol restricts the region’s capacity to effectively combat such activities.

For example, in 2022, Taiwanese police uncovered a new type of human trafficking in Cambodia and Myanmar. Sophisticated organised crime syndicates were promising overseas employment to vulnerable people from around the world, including almost 5000 from Taiwan. Victims were held captive in Cambodia and Myanmar, forced to work in scam call centres under horrendous conditions and subjected to physical and psychological abuse.

In this incident, Taiwanese police submitted reports to Interpol but could not directly work with its member states, despite Taiwan’s crucial role in uncovering the scheme and its duty to protect its citizens.

As Taiwan is neither a member state nor an observer, it cannot access or contribute to Interpol’s 19 criminal intelligence databases. Nor can it access or assist with Interpol’s systems for requesting international cooperation. The complex arrangements for requesting assistance worldwide to locate and provisionally arrest a person pending extradition, surrender or similar legal action are central to Interpol’s operations and invaluable for combatting transnational organised crime.

Taiwan was a member of Interpol from 1961 to 1984, until the organisation recognised Beijing as the legitimate government of China. The CCP argues that Taiwan, under the One China principle, cannot join international organisations that require statehood for membership, including Interpol.

Interpol’s position on Taiwan was clarified accordingly by its secretary general, Jurgen Stock, in 2023, who argued against granting the island observer status: ‘In 1984, the Interpol General Assembly recognised the PRC as the sole representation of China. As such, Interpol recognises Taiwan as part of China, and as China is a member of Interpol, Interpol cannot grant Taiwan observer status in the General Assembly.’

Stock, the CCP and the member states in Interpol who oppose Taiwan’s participation have seemingly forgotten that the organisation is about police cooperation. Its focus is on sharing information and intelligence and connecting police forces—not countries.

Taiwan’s appointment as an observer would not undermine the One China principle nor threaten Beijing. Instead, Taiwan’s inclusion would formalise and strengthen cooperation, enabling more efficient and coordinated responses to global security threats.

By denying Taiwan’s participation in Interpol, the international community risks sending a message that political considerations outweigh principles of justice and human rights. This is a dangerous precedent in the fight against impunity. Article 3 of Interpol’s constitution even prevents the organisation from undertaking political operations, although it does not prevent political omissions and exclusions. The case for approving Taiwan’s observation status is grounded in fairness, effectiveness and global security. The case against is purely partisan.

The CCP’s influence within Interpol is instrumental in preventing Taiwan from gaining membership or observer status. Chinese authorities consistently block Taiwan’s attempts to participate in Interpol’s meetings, share information or contribute to international law enforcement efforts. This exclusion isolates Taiwanese police and limits Interpol’s ability to combat cross-border crime effectively.

With little prospect of full Interpol membership, Taiwan has instead persistently pursued observer status. In recent years, it has gained support from numerous member states, including the United States, who recognise its contributions to global security.

Taiwan meets the criteria for observer status based on its law enforcement capabilities and willingness to cooperate internationally. Interpol observers include international organisations as well as non-member countries and are afforded limited participation rights. They can access Interpol’s databases and attend meetings like its general assembly.

Crucially, Taiwan’s exclusion raises human rights and humanitarian issues. Victims of transnational crimes, including human trafficking and terrorism, suffer regardless of geopolitical boundaries. Taiwan’s inclusion would give better protection to victims and enhance international efforts to prevent and prosecute crimes against humanity. Its exclusion allows transnational crime networks to operate across borders and exploit gaps in international cooperation.

Taiwan’s exclusion from Interpol is a glaring omission. By granting it observer status, the international community would be upholding principles of fairness and justice, and meaningfully enhancing global security cooperation. Setting aside political considerations and de-politicising the fight against transnational crime is essential for advancing shared goals of security, justice and human rights on a global scale.