The last message that now former Interpol President Meng Hongwei sent to his wife was an emoji depicting a knife. Soon after, he disappeared into China’s feared and opaque Ministry of Public Security, the subject of a corruption investigation about which no details have been revealed. The disappearance is a blow to Meng’s family, Interpol and China’s aspirations to lead similar international organizations in the future.
That’s bad enough. But the impact of China’s power play will be even more far-reaching. Chinese participation in global organizations isn’t just a status-enhancing honor. It’s a necessity: Solving international problems of all sorts will be harder if the world’s second-largest economy doesn’t play a leading role in addressing them. If global institutions can no longer trust that Chinese domestic politics won’t interfere with their work — and feel secure appointing Chinese to top positions — their legitimacy and effectiveness will inevitably suffer.