Beijing flexes the long arm of diplomacy

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 September, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 September, 2005, 12:00am

Despite six years of diplomacy and a written promise not to carry out the death penalty, Beijing has failed to secure the return of Lai Changxing . But it is increasingly successful in persuading governments around the world to arrest and deport fugitives from Chinese justice.

Figures from the Ministry of Public Security show that, since 1998, it has obtained the return of 230 Chinese from 30 countries for whom it issued arrest warrants,

but that more than 500 remain at large, controlling assets in excess of 70 billion yuan.

A breakthrough came in April last year, when the US handed back Yu Zhendong , the former manager of a Guangdong branch of the Bank of China who had embezzled millions of US dollars. He was the first corrupt official to be sent back from the US, after Beijing agreed not to execute him and to sentence him to no more than 12 years in prison.

The US, Canada and Australia are the favoured destinations for corrupt officials, because China's use of the death penalty has made the extradition process difficult, with many countries refusing to send back foreign nationals who could face execution.

In the case of Lai, China has promised not to use the death penalty. But his lawyer David Matas retorts that the US State Department human rights report for China shows that the central government uses prisoners to beat up other prisoners and that Lai fears being killed in prison.

It is easier for China to obtain repatriation from neighbouring countries such as Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia and Mongolia, with whom it enjoys good political relations. Also, many countries in central and South America and Africa do not want to jeopardise growing economic and political ties with Beijing for the sake of a fugitive.