Crack international law team to join in China’s hunt for fugitives
Panel of experts will also help Beijing tackle territorial disputes with neighbours
Beijing is building a team of experts on international law to help repatriate fugitives abroad and tackle its territorial disputes with neighbouring countries.
The foreign ministry established an international law committee earlier this year, emphasising Beijing's hopes of advancing its interests through treaties and legal provisions, the South China Morning Post has learned.
The committee comprises 15 scholars and experts. These include: Shi Jiuyong, a former judge at the International Court of Justice; Rao Geping, a law professor at Peking University; Huang Jin, president of the China University of Political Science and Law; and Liu Nanlai, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Observers said China urgently needed to improve its study of international law as Beijing stepped up its anti-corruption campaign by targeting fugitives abroad.
Beijing released a list of 100 fugitives suspected of corruption last month - most of whom had fled to the United States, Canada and Australia.
China wants these nations to help return the fugitives as part of its "Sky Net" anti-graft operation.
The Post has revealed that one of the listed fugitives, Cheng Muyang, is now a Vancouver property developer seeking refugee status in Canada. Cheng, also known as Michael Ching Mo Yeung, is accused of graft and illegal asset transfers but denies all charges. The Post has no evidence of his guilt or innocence.
In remarks that signal Beijing's determination to bring Cheng back, foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said fugitives were "bound to receive due punishment".
But the repatriation process is difficult in Cheng's case because there is no extradition treaty between China and Canada.
Up until last November, China had concluded only 39 extradition treaties with other nations since its first, with Thailand, was signed in 1993.
Observers say this is not enough for Sky Net to succeed.
"On one hand China has to sign more bilateral extradition treaties," said Ma Chengyuan, a professor of international law at the China University of Political Science and Law.
"But it also has to see how to advance its plans through multilateral cooperation and treaties."
Beijing is aware that the negotiation of extradition treaties is often hindered by concerns over human rights and whether suspects will face the death penalty, which many countries oppose.
But it believes it can use mechanisms such as the United Nations Convention against Corruption, adopted in 2003, which says that signatories are obliged to assist in extradition, legal assistance and criminal proceedings.
Member states of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation have also pledged to deny safe havens to corrupt officials.
"Beijing is seeking to fully utilise these multilateral platforms for its interests, and put such frameworks into practice," Ma said.
Beijing's flexing of its muscles in territorial disputes, particularly in the South China Sea, provides further impetus to study international law.
The Philippines, one of the nations contesting China's claims in the South China Sea, has initiated proceedings under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Beijing decided not to respond to the proceedings, but Wu Shicun, president of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, said China was seeking to justify its territorial claims through legal means and needed more experts to do so.
"The challenge facing China over the South China Sea is daunting and we don't have enough experts that are familiar with international law regarding territorial disputes," said Wu, who was recently invited to join the foreign ministry's Foreign Policy Advisory Committee.
"If we can count on talented people with experience … we may be able to [satisfactorily] submit our claims to arbitration."
International laws on the handling of territorial disputes were dominated by the United States and Europe, Wu said, adding that China sometimes found such rules unhelpful.
"China wants to maintain its interests using the existing international rules," he said. "But if the existing rules cannot function, then China may seek to change such rules."
Ma said studies of international laws would also be useful in helping to set up the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which is led by Beijing as part of attempts to bolster links with Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa.