An extradition treaty between Australia or other Western countries and China, flagged overnight by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, would be a remarkable endorsement of one of the world’s most lethal and unfair judicial systems.

As Crikey reported last week, the government is keen to cooperate with China on what the Chinese regime calls Operation Fox Hunt, aimed at cracking down on the country’s notorious corruption.  An extradition treaty has been flagged as part of a major announcement on corruption at this week’s Beijing Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting, with Bishop saying China was seeking a multilateral extradition agreement. Australia is one Western country where corrupt Chinese officials funnel assets and seek refuge from prosecution, but not anywhere near as much as the United States. In May, Al Jazeera reported that China was pressuring the US to establish arrangements to help extradite over 1000 corrupt former officials who had fled to the US. By one estimate, US$1 trillion has been spirited out of China in the decade leading to 2011.

The problem is China’s legal system — or what passes for a legal system in China. In 2013, prosecutors secured a conviction rate of over 99.9% — although that represented a slight fall compared to 2004. In fact, so absurd was the figure that Chinese officials admitted that the credibility of the system was being undermined. China is also by far the world’s leading nation for executions, with over 2400 executions in 2013, despite a significant fall after 2007 when death penalty cases were referred from provincial courts to Beijing for review. According to Chinese state media, there is overwhelming support among Chinese people for the death penalty in corruption cases.

Appetite in the West, therefore, for extradition treaties with China has been limited: anyone extradited to China for corruption will certainly be railroaded and may be executed. In China, this reluctance is blamed on our failure to understand “China’s judicial and social development“. In any event, Australia does not extradite people if they face the death penalty, a key hurdle that any extradition agreement would have to address.

On the other hand, the government is desperate to complete a free trade agreement with China this week so that it can be the centrepiece of Xi Jinping’s G20 visit, with the Chinese Premier to address federal Parliament next Monday. The government has previously shown it is willing to agree to almost anything in order to get FTAs, which it sees as economically beneficial despite the lack of evidence for any benefits. An extradition treaty might be a small price to pay for the illusion of economic progress created by a deal with China.

Peter Fray

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