Australia moves to enforce China extradition pact

Treaty signed in 2007 has been held up amid concerns; Beijing sees it as key weapon in pursuing corrupt officials

Australia is finally moving ahead with a long-stalled extradition treaty with China that will help both countries crack down on graft, money laundering and drug smuggling.

The controversial treaty  - one of the first between China and a Western, English-speaking country - is seen as a victory for the Chinese authorities in their pursuit of corrupt officials who have fled overseas.

But critics in Australia have expressed concerns that China's justice system is flawed, and said there is no guarantee that extradited individuals will receive a fair trial.

But the Malcolm Turnbull government is keen to strengthen ties with its main trading partner and curb drug smuggling. It finally tabled regulations in Parliament yesterday to bring the treaty into force.

Minister for Justice Michael Keenan told The Straits Times: "Australia and China have a longstanding law enforcement and international crime cooperation relationship.

VALID FEARS BUT...

The Committee cannot dismiss concerns over the lack of transparency in the Chinese justice system, allegations of the ill-treatment and torture of prisoners, and the continuing imposition of the death penalty, (but) Australia does not wish to become a safe haven for people who commit serious offences and it must be able to bring back individuals from foreign countries who have offended against Australian law.

AN AUSTRALIAN PARLIAMENTARY COMMITTEE which concluded that the extradition treaty should be approved.

"This extradition treaty will complement these existing international crime cooperation arrangements.

"Extradition treaties, like other forms of international crime cooperation, ensure criminals cannot evade justice by simply crossing borders," he added.

Analysts said Beijing sees the treaty as an important weapon in its global "Operation Fox Hunt" to pursue corrupt officials. Australia has seen an influx of Chinese millionaires in recent years, prompting questions about the source of their riches.

Beijing hopes that the Australian move will encourage other countries to follow suit. France and Spain already have extradition treaties with China while Canada and New Zealand are considering them.

"China wants Australia - the alleged home of many such "foxes" - to become a model for extradition treaties with other key common law countries that have so far failed to endorse them, including the US, Britain, Canada and New Zealand," wrote China-based correspondent Rowan Callick in The Australian newspaper in January.

For its part, Australia has been keen to use the treaty to curb the flow of narcotics from China, especially crystal methamphetamine.

The extradition treaty was signed in Australia in September 2007 by the John Howard government.

But it has been held up amid concerns about the rule of law in China.

Such concerns have been exacerbated by questions about several cases of Australian and Chinese-Australian businessmen and executives arrested in China on bribery and other charges.

The Law Council of Australia expressed serious concerns about the treaty, saying there were no guarantees that extradited individuals would receive a fair trial, or would not be subject to the death penalty, which has been abolished in Australia. The council also said there was little that Australia could do if Beijing breached its obligations.

A Parliamentary Committee concluded in December last year that the treaty should be approved but with added safeguards - including requiring the Chinese authorities to guarantee a "fair and open trial" before surrendering individuals.

"The Committee cannot dismiss concerns over the lack of transparency in the Chinese justice system, allegations of the ill-treatment and torture of prisoners, and the continuing imposition of the death penalty," it said in its report.

But it added: "Australia does not wish to become a safe haven for people who commit serious offences and it must be able to bring back individuals from foreign countries who have offended against Australian law."

The federal government on Wednesday said it supported the treaty but did not accept all the safeguards recommended in the Parliamentary Committee's report.

"It is important to ensure that criminals cannot evade justice simply by crossing borders," it added.

However, the opposition Labour party recommended delaying the enforcement of the treaty.

It said the main problem with the treaty was that it did not allow Australian officials to refuse a request where extradition would be "unjust or oppressive".

Parliament has several weeks to express disapproval but the treaty is expected to come into force in July.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 03, 2017, with the headline 'Australia moves to enforce China extradition pact'. Print Edition | Subscribe