○ As China enters the "two-sessions" period, anti-corruption and overseas extradition remain hot topics
○ Many Chinese criminal suspects mistakenly believe that Latin America and the Caribbean areas are safe havens from China
○ China has also strengthened its anti-corruption efforts in countries involved in the Belt and Road initiative
Ma Lin, a former manager from China Railway 15 Bureau Group Co. Ltd, was taken from Saudi Arabia back to Kunming Changshui International Airport in Southwest China's Yunnan Province on September 16, 2017. Ma was suspected of embezzlement and fled China in 2013. He was among the 100 most-wanted fugitives list. Photo: IC
Anti-graft issues continue to be a hot topic as China enters into the "two sessions" period in the first week of March. Overseas cooperation with the Chinese government's anti-corruption drive has left no way out for those corrupt suspects who harbor dreams of fleeing.
China's anti-graft drive, together with social security and education reform, top the list of the most pressing issues among netizens during the "two sessions" period, according to an online survey made by news site people.com.cn.
Among all its anti-graft efforts, the return to China of half of the top-100 fugitives listed on an Interpol "red notice" and reform of the national supervision system have been hailed by Chinese netizens, the survey reveals.
Aside from launching operation "Sky Net 2017" and the Fox Hunt campaign to hunt down corruption suspects who have fled abroad and recover their ill-gotten gains, Chinese authorities have also sought to deepen cooperation with different countries. The scope of cooperation in this anti-craft campaign will continue to expand around this globe.
On January 22 of this year, China singed the Joint Action Plan of China-LAC Cooperation (Priority Areas) (2019-2021) with the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) during the Second Ministerial Meeting of the Forum of China and the CELAC countries.
Both sides vowed to expand their anti-corruption cooperation as well as cooperate on anti-smuggling, anti-money laundering, anti-tax evasion and illicit financial flow, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
The document is reported as having "opened a new chapter" on anti-corruption cooperation between China and Latin American countries.
China's overseas hunt for fugitive officials has been facing a series of problems, including no diplomatic ties with certain countries, no extradition treaties with those countries and no papers on judicial cooperation in the Latin America and Caribbean areas. Over 10 fugitives who are suspected of corruption hold passports of Caribbean states, as some of those small nations have not established diplomatic ties with China and many have relaxed immigrant business policies.
Under the Joint Action Plan of China-LAC Cooperation (Priority Areas) (2019-2021), China and CELAC countries will strengthen efforts on information exchanges, including those on anti-money laundering, the liquidation of assets and extradition. They will also set up a cooperative mechanism on judicial cases, offering more mutual legal assistance and joint-training in law enforcement.
"China has ramped up its efforts for international cooperation against corruption in recent years, which has attracted global attention and displayed the Communist Party of China (CPC)'s resolution to hunt down suspected corrupted officials on the lam overseas," Qiao Liang, a research fellow from the National Academy of Development and Strategy in Renmin University, wrote in a commentary released on china.com.cn.
The January document was not the first time for China to cooperate with countries in Latin American and the Caribbean.
Under the coordination of China's Fugitive Repatriation and Asset Recovery Office of the Central Anti-Corruption Coordination Group, China extradited, repatriated and persuaded several fugitives to China from CELAC countries.
Thanks to efforts made by China's Foreign Ministry, the Ministry of Public Security and the Chinese Embassy in Peru, Zhang Liping, who was one of China's 100 most-wanted fugitives, returned to China in March of 2016.
Zhang, a female, was a former president of a shoe manufacturing company in Shanghai who allegedly falsified value-added tax invoices. She fled to Thailand in 1999 before moving to Peru.
After exhausting all legal remedies through Peruvian courts and Inter-American procedures, Huang Haiyong, suspected of smuggling crude soybean oil into China, was repatriated in July of 2016, the General Administration of Customs (GAC) was cited by Xinhua as saying.
Since his capture by Interpol in 2008, Huang fought an eight-year battle against his extradition from Peru. The case went as far as the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the Constitutional Court of Peru, the GAC said.
Huang's return was the first time that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights heard an extradition case that concerned China, which emerged victorious in the judgment.
It also marked China's first extradition of a criminal suspect from Latin America, the first of its kind under an extradition treaty between China and Peru, according to the GAC.
In a penitential letter, fugitive Fu Yaobo wrote that he traveled to five countries over the course of just 13 days before rooting down in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (a sovereign state at the eastern end of the Caribbean Sea) because it had no established diplomatic relations with China.
Fu, together with Zhang Qingzhao, were both taken back to China in February of 2016. Their names were among China's 100 most-wanted fugitives list released in April. They fled abroad a year and half ago under suspicion of jointly embezzling 30 million yuan ($4.7 million) in public funds, according to the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI).
The net for hunting down Chinese corruption suspects fleeing overseas has both widened and tightened. Deepening overseas anti-graft cooperation has also created an atmosphere of "no way out" for fugitive officials, deterring those still in China who might be dreaming of fleeing with their ill-gotten gains, Southern Weekly reported.
Cleaning the road
Aside from hunting down suspects who have fled overseas, China has also strengthened its anti-corruption efforts along the Belt and Road Initiative (B&R).
Chen Xiang, a counselor at China Anti Corruption Judicial Research Center, was cited by people.com.cn as saying that "the Chinese government has worked with international organizations to crack down on corruption, commercial fraud and bribery, which has helped create a clean environment for enterprises developing under the B&R."
However, some corrupt people have nonetheless emerged along the B&R, said Chen, adding that China and countries along the B&R route should work together on anti-corruption, including urging enterprises to behave themselves and enhancing each country's governance in this regard.
During a keynote speech delivered at the opening ceremony of the B&R Forum for International Cooperation in May of 2017, Chinese President Xi Jinping urged strengthening international counter-corruption cooperation so that the Belt and Road will be "a road with high ethical standards," Xinhua reported.
In an effort to enhance cooperation among countries under the B&R, China's anti-graft watchdog, CCDI, and the World Bank jointly held a Beijing-based seminar in September of 2017, during which all representatives agreed that B&R countries should have "zero tolerance" toward corruption.
This, it was agreed, would ensure that there are no loopholes and no obstacles when it comes to anti-corruption cooperation among different countries, china.com.cn reported.
"[B&R] countries will not become the heaven for corrupted fugitives who want to flee from their crimes, their accountability and paying taxes," china.com.cn reported.
China's anti-graft efforts, including a domestic campaign stressing CPC disciplines and overseas cooperation, could be regarded as a "Chinese approach," referring to building a fairer and more reasonable global governance, experts say.
China played a leading role in pushing forward a new global anti-corruption order in launching bilateral and multilateral cooperation, Qiao said, adding that Chinese leaders have attempted to set agendas on anti-corruption cooperation at various international events since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 2012.
As of June of 2017, China has signed extradition treaties with 48 countries and put in place judicial assistance arrangements on criminal offenses with nearly 60 countries and regions.
Moreover, China has sought anti-graft cooperation under multilateral frameworks such as the G20, APEC and the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, Xinhua reported.
During the APEC meeting in Beijing in 2014, the Beijing Declaration on Fighting Corruption was adopted, with an aim to eliminate corruption through extradition and judicial assistance and more flexible legal measures to recover stolen money.
In 2016, G20 leaders also endorsed the High Level Principles on Cooperation on Persons Sought for Corruption and Asset Recovery and the 2017-2018 G20 Anti-corruption Action Plan in Hangzhou.
"China's anti-corruption drive has offered precious experience to global governance on anti-graft… the counter-corruption is an important part of global governance… China is offering its own approach for the global governance," Wu Xiaowen, lecturer with Chinese Academy of Governance was cited by china.com.cn as saying.
Newspaper headline: No way out