My Take

The double standards at work over extradition treaties with China

Western countries are guilty of hypocrisy when they refuse such deals with Beijing yet sign them with countries with questionable standards of justice and rule of law

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 April, 2017, 2:41am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 April, 2017, 2:41am

The rule of law makes democracy work. But democracy itself doesn’t guarantee the rule of law. Yet, many Western countries seem to forget this truism, and are happy to adopt double standards when it comes to negotiating reciprocal extradition agreements with China.

Australia has been forced to give up an attempt to ratify an extradition treaty with China after a rebellion by lawmakers. Canada is in danger of following suit given the similarly fierce resistance from some legislators and critics. They risk working against their own national interests by becoming havens for criminal suspects and economic fugitives. They also open themselves to charges of hypocrisy by having such treaties with countries that may have a formal democracy, but where the rule of law and judicial standards may be questionable.

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Ottawa and Canberra, for example, have extradition treaties with Mexico and Ecuador. Australia has such arrangements with Turkey and Venezuela while Canada has one with Thailand. All these countries have lower rankings than China in the 2016 rule of law index compiled by the Washington-based World Justice Project. At 66, the world’s largest democracy, India, is only slightly ahead of China (80) on the index. It too has reciprocal extradition with Canada and Australia, yet is often subject to similar criticisms by independent international bodies over governance, rule of law and corruption.

The Australian foreign minister, Julie Bishop, has explained perfectly why it is untenable to refuse such agreements with China.

“They [China] have to lay out the actual charge, if it is anything to do with a military or political offence, if it has the death penalty attached, or you have an apprehension of torture or cruel or inhumane punishment, you can exercise discretion – you can just say no,” she has said.

“If we are going to say these safeguards are worthless, that means we will never have an extradition treaty [with a country] that doesn’t have the same legal system as our Western democracy.”

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Despite its vocal public objections, Beijing actually understands the human rights concerns of Western governments. In all such negotiations, it has conceded when other countries have decided to deny extradition requests.

And, contrary to claims by human rights groups such as Amnesty International, Beijing has no interest in pursuing political dissidents through extradition, for the simple reason that keeping them out of the country has been the most effective way of neutralising them.