Australia shelves planned extradition treaty with China

CANBERRA: The Australian government on Tuesday shelved a planned extradition treaty with China rather than allow the Senate to reject it over human rights concerns.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said senior ministers decided not to proceed with trying to ratify the treaty after the opposition Labor Party declared it would block it in the Senate. Labor was the conservative government's last hope of getting the treaty through the upper house a decade after it was signed.

Bishop said she would renew negotiations with China and Labor to find a compromise that the Senate would accept.

"China has asked us to uphold our end of the deal which is to ratify the treaty and that's what we've been seeking to do," Bishop told reporters.

"It is very much in Australia's national interests for us to have the highest level of cooperation with China and other countries with whom we have an extradition treaty," she said.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters that the treaty would help in the fight against transnational crime and promote judicial and law enforcement cooperation.

"We hope Australia can bear in mind the general picture of bilateral relations and proceed with its relevant domestic procedures so as to make the treaty come into force as soon as possible," Hua said.

Former conservative Prime Minister John Howard's government signed the treaty in September 2007, only weeks before the government was defeated in a general election. The prime ministers who have followed Howard in the past decade have proved less enthusiastic about the deal, which was never ratified.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang urged Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to ratify the deal during a visit last week which focused on closer economic ties, Bishop said.

"They want the extradition treaty because they are seeking to crack down on criminals who leave China and seek safe haven in Australia," Bishop said.

The issue has split the government, with government lawmaker and former Prime Minister Tony Abbott telling The Australian newspaper in an interview published Tuesday that "China's legal system has to evolve further before the Australian government and people could be confident that those before it would receive justice according to law."

Australia has an extradition treaty with Saudi Arabia which, like China, has not ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

A parliamentary committee recommended in December that it be ratified, but made recommendations designed to strengthen protections of human rights.

A report by Labor lawmakers said the committee should not dismiss concerns over the lack of transparency in the Chinese judicial system, allegations of ill-treatment and torture of prisoners and the continuing imposition of the death penalty.

Australia opposes capital punishment and demands assurances that extradited prisoners will not be executed.