Australia cancels vote on extradition treaty with China

A supporter waving Chinese and Australian national flags during the arrival of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to the Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, on March 23, 2017.
A supporter waving Chinese and Australian national flags during the arrival of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to the Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, on March 23, 2017. PHOTO: EPA

SYDNEY (REUTERS) - Australia cancelled a vote on Tuesday (March 28) to finally ratify an extradition treaty with China, 10 years after it was signed, with the government set for an embarrassing defeat on the vote.

The planned parliamentary vote was to occur two days after Chinese Premier Li Keqiang left Australia where trade deals underpinned fast improving Sino-Australia relations.

But a spokesman for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the vote had been cancelled, after opposition politicians who control the upper house Senate made it clear they would not support the treaty.

"It has been in our national interest to have this agreement with China. We will speak with our Chinese friends in more detail and decide what to do," Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told a news conference.

If Australia ratified the treaty, it would have become one of the few western countries, along with France and Spain, to enter into an extradition treaty with China.

Political opposition to the treaty in Australia stems from concerns over China's humanitarian record, with human rights groups regularly accusing Beijing of obtaining confessions through torture or under duress.

Australia's inability to ratify the extradition treaty is a blow to China's overseas hunt for corrupt officials and business executives who have fled abroad with their assets, dubbed Operation Fox Hunt.

In an article published on the eve of Li's visit, China's ambassador to Australia, Cheng Jingye, highlighted his country's hopes that the extradition treaty would enter into force soon.

Euan Graham, director of the national security programme at Australian think tank Lowy Institute, said: "The visit seems to have been very successful on the economic merits but this inability to ratify the extradition treaty will inevitably lead to a sense of deflation."

It is also a blow for Turnbull, who revived the long-dormant treaty's ratification process a year ago, with Australia seeking closer cooperation with Chinese law enforcement to stem an increasing tide of synthetic drugs trafficked into Australia from southern China.

It also comes as three Australian employees of casino operator Crown Resorts Ltd remain in Chinese custody following their arrest in November 2016 for alleged gambling offences.