China and Canada must push ahead on an agreement to deal with mainland fugitives

The G20 recognised the need for international efforts to crack down on corruption and talks should address this while adding safeguards on human rights

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 September, 2016, 1:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 September, 2016, 1:00am

Two recent deals struck between China and Canada mark big steps forward in Beijing’s efforts to combat corrupt officials who flee the mainland. A landmark agreement was signed last week providing for the confiscation and sharing or returning of stolen assets, making it easier for mainland authorities to recover ill-gotten gains funnelled out of China. The deal is the first of its kind for China, which hopes other countries might now be prepared to make similar arrangements.

Striking a bilateral deal on the return of assets is easier than securing one for the fugitives to be returned. So the decision to also start talks on signing an extradition treaty is more significant and more controversial. There is no effective extradition treaty between China and the countries most popular with criminals fleeing from the mainland. No such treaty exists with the US or Canada. Australia signed one in 2007, but has not ratified it.

Extradition treaties provide legal procedures which generally make it easier for suspects to be transferred across borders. Such agreements are needed by China if it is to put its international anti-corruption efforts on a firmer footing. But the reaction in Canada to the prospect of talks shows the obstacles ahead. Critics have raised concerns about the mainland’s death penalty, torturing of suspects, lack of an independent judiciary, and crackdown on defence lawyers.

China and Canada seal deal on return of assets stolen by fugitive corruption suspects

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has stressed his country has high standards on extradition treaties. Beijing will need to offer reassurance that suspects returned under any agreement will be treated fairly and humanely. It is highly unlikely Canada would agree to send back a suspect accused of political crimes or who faces the death penalty. Other safeguards may be necessary, such as allowing Canadian authorities to monitor proceedings on the mainland. This was done when smuggling mastermind Lai Changxing was sent back by Canada in 2011 and jailed for life.

Convincing foreign governments to enter into such deals will become much easier if the mainland’s legal system is reformed to make it fairer, more transparent, and based on the rule of law. The process of negotiating and agreeing an extradition treaty can, in itself, help by seeking to ensure certain standards are met.

The need for international efforts to crack down on corruption was recognised at the recent G20 meeting on the mainland. Canada and Beijing should push ahead with talks aimed at an agreement that ensures mainland criminals can be returned, with safeguards to ease concerns about rights.