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China Seeks Western Help to Nab Fleeing Corruption Suspects

FILE - Chinese fugitive Lai Changxing is escorted back to Beijing from Canada, at Beijing International Airport, July 23, 2011.

China is stepping up requests for cooperation in hunting down corruption suspects that have fled overseas. But while the Chinese government has sought to extradite suspects, but many Western countries, including the United States, have been reluctant to sign extradition treaties with China because of alleged human rights abuses.

“Quite a large proportion of these corrupt officials had actually left China, and went to the West and many other countries," said Willy Lam, adjunct professor of Chinese politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. "So about two years ago the Chinese leaders began to set up a special task force with a view to ensuring these corrupt officials would be extradited back to China.”

In a statement on its website this week, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection said China "must strengthen our coordination and cooperation with the countries where corrupt elements flee, clearly express our ideas, narrow differences, seek support, and reject the provision of havens for corrupt elements.”

President Xi Jinping has conducted a wide-ranging corruption crackdown, arresting hundreds of suspects and causing many others to flee overseas. Chinese authorities have called the overseas search for suspects “Operation Fox Hunt.”

So far, the United States has not been willing to aid China in its search for these suspects. Human rights activists and the U.S. government criticize a procedure called "shanggui," where Chinese corruption suspects are held in extra-legal detention.

William Nee, a China Researcher with Amnesty International, said shanggui is not done by the official police, but by the Central Commission on Discipline and Inspection, which is the main discipline unit of the Communist Party. "People can be in shanggui for long periods of time without access to family members, without access to lawyers, and there have been stories of people in shanggui being subjected to abuse and torture,” he said.

Despite concerns and criticism of the corruption crackdown from lawyers and rights activists, China’s government has continued to campaign for extradition cooperation. Earlier this month, Huang Shuxian, deputy head of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, wrote on extradition in the Communist Party journal Qiushi, calling for a “new international order to fight corruption.”

“Grasp well the important elements of ‘people, money and proof,” he wrote, “Speed up the signing of extradition treaties and establish law enforcement cooperation with destination countries for those who have fled abroad.”

Huang also said state media should better publicize China’s anti-corruption story, and that Chinese authorities should develop a more in-depth understanding of other countries’ legal systems and how they could support China’s corruption crackdown.

As long as China’s Communist Party oversees its judicial system, authorities’ requests for international cooperation will likely do little to allay the concerns of analysts like Maya Wang, China Researcher with Human Rights Watch.

“Our concern with China is that it’s legal system is under the control of the party, and Human Rights Watch has documented the use of torture, in the criminal procedures in China’s detention facility. So there is no guarantee that once a suspect has been extradited back to China, the person will receive a fair trial,” she said.

China says with some suspects, extradition is not necessary, because they return to China voluntarily. Authorities recently said Zeng Ziheng, a man on China's list of 100 most wanted corruption suspects abroad, returned to China from Canada on his own.

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