China said on Wednesday that an Interpol "red notice" has been issued for the arrest of billionaire and critic of the ruling Chinese Communist Party Guo Wengui, in a move critics say is aimed at preventing him from revealing embarrassing details linking the country's leaders to a corruption case.
Guo, who is also known as Miles Kwok, is named as a suspect by the notice, which requests that the police forces of member states "locate and provisionally arrest an individual pending extradition."
"It is our understanding that Interpol has issued a 'red notice' for criminal suspect Guo Wengui," foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular news briefing in Beijing on Wednesday.
Hong Kong's South China Morning Post newspaper had earlier reported that Guo is suspected of paying 60 million yuan (U.S.$8.72 million) in bribes to disgraced former state security vice-minister Ma Jian, with whom he has been linked.
But Guo, who has lived overseas for the past two years, said the move is linked to fears that he will act as a whistle-blower on corruption among the highest echelons of China's leadership.
"This is suicidal behavior coming from truly corrupt officials who fear that I will expose their crimes," Guo said on Wednesday via his Twitter account.
"This will only strengthen my determination to fight these bad guys until the end. Everything is just getting started!" he said.
Guo said he hasn't held Chinese travel documents for many years now. Interpol red notice aren't legally binding on member states, so individual jurisdictions have total discretion over whether or not to enforce them.
Aimed to silence
A source told RFA on Wednesday that the order is aimed at silencing Guo before he reveals any evidence of corruption.
The move to detain Guo comes after a former vice minister of China's public security ministry was elected head of Interpol last November, sparking concern that Beijing will use international law enforcement mechanisms to pursue peaceful critics and political asylum-seekers overseas.
Online commentators in China seemed to think this was relevant.
"Everyone is watching this, because Guo Wengui could lift the lid on the whole system," one commentator wrote. "Everyone knows this is happening because the head of Interpol is a former vice minister of police."
Current Interpol president Meng Hongwei is a former vice minister of public security.
Guo has repeatedly claimed to hold damning information about party elites, which could damage the government amid behind-the-scenes political infighting in the run-up to the 19th Party Congress later this year.
Chinese constitutional scholar and historian Zhang Lifan said China's announcement last December that it will prosecute former spy chief Ma Jian for bribery and abuse of power was likely aimed at warning Guo off going public with any concrete evidence of corruption.
"This is all about protecting their grip on power," Zhang told RFA. "I think they are clearly going after Ma Jian to send a message to Guo."
Ma, former head of counterespionage operations at the state security police, is accused of "seriously violating political discipline and political rules," in a likely reference to a set of disciplinary rules for party members published last year.
Ma reportedly "confronted investigations by the commission and tried to transfer and hide financial possessions involved in his case," according to the party's disciplinary arm.
Pin Ho, editor of New York-based Chinese news magazine Mingjing News, agreed, calling Ma Jian a minor character in a case that also has links to "missing" billionaire Xiao Jianhua.
Abducted at home
Xiao was reportedly abducted by mainland Chinese state security police from his apartment in Hong Kong, a separate legal jurisdiction under the terms of the 1997 handover agreement.
The Financial Times reported that Xiao was "accosted" in his waterfront apartment in the Four Seasons resort at around 1.00 a.m. on Friday by "five or six plain-clothed Chinese public security agents,"
who took him to mainland China along with his bodyguards.
"Out of all the leaders who might be implicated by Xiao Jianhua, Ma Jian is a relatively minor character," Ho told RFA in a recent interview. "The current power struggle is generating a lot of shocks behind the scenes, and some people will inevitably become scapegoats."
"If there is no way for the Chinese Communist Party to find an equilibrium with this round of power struggle, it will implode," he predicted.
Since taking power in 2012, Chinese president Xi Jinping has launched an ongoing anti-corruption campaign targeting high-ranking "tigers" along with low-ranking "flies."
However, the party's internal investigative arm, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), has been slammed by rights groups as unaccountable and lacking in legal representation for those accused, as well as resorting to torture and other abuses to elicit forced confessions.
And political commentators say that the anti-corruption campaign is highly selective, with members of factions other than Xi's most likely to be targeted.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.