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Gordon Campbell on having an extradition treaty with China

Gordon Campbell on having an extradition treaty with China

Reportedly, an extradition treaty with China is now on the table, although – thankfully - Prime Minister John Key has also indicated that a lot of detailed work would be required before any such arrangement took final shape, much less came into force. For now, our sympathetic murmurings about China’s desire to pursue its fugitive citizens need not be taken as a readiness to collude in railroading people back to face the tender mercies of China’s flawed system of justice.

The problems with China’s justice system are well known. Due process in court is almost non-existent and defendants are routinely deemed guilty by definition. Torture is a regular feature of interrogation, and prison conditions are notoriously harsh. Crucially, China’s legal code also condones the death penalty for economic crimes – eg embezzlement and fraud – even though criminal intent and culpability are very much in the eye of the beholder.

The Chinese system can – for example - readily criminalise those who engage in lending to small and medium scale businesses, even though they can depend on such finance for survival. Regularly “criminal” prosecutions ensue when (a) those businesses fail and if (b) the “victims” can manage to rally enough political clout within the Communist Party to go after the lenders who often (wisely) take to their heels. These people would more accurately be called loan sharks – and in New Zealand, that’s not considered a capital crime. In China, it will often require an explicitly political decision by the Party as to whether someone previously engaged in economic loans gets re-defined as a criminal.

Despite these and other flaws in China’s justice system, many countries are now co-operating with China on extradition – partly for reasons of trade, and partly to win Chinese co-operation in stemming the flow of meth-amphetamine ingredients out of China. Australia, for instance, drafted an extradition treaty with China back in 2007 but never ratified it. Like Key, Malcolm Turnbull is also visiting China this month, and his government has dusted off that extradition treaty, and is now making noises about passing it.

Probably, New Zealand would demand the same conditions set out in Australia’s draft document.

The unratified treaty signed between Australia and China provides grounds for refusal for political offences and if there are fears of torture or inhumane punishment. In cases where the person sought may be sentenced to death, Australia can undertake that the death penalty not be imposed – or if imposed, that it not be carried out.

Steadily, China is making progress in reeling in the fugitives it is seeking. Last year, the China Daily website cited Communist Party statistics to the effect that China has signed extradition treaties with 39 countries, and criminal and judicial assistance treaties with 52 countries, in all. Formal extradition need not be the only avenue of getting hold of the fugitives being sought. Reportedly, the likes of Australia have turned a blind eye to Chinese enforcement officials entering the country and blackmailing the fugitives to ‘voluntarily’ return home – often via threats to the safety of parents or other family members back in China.

While the US has no extradition treaty with China, US immigration services have also recently deported several such fugitives - either on the grounds of overstaying, or because of alleged discrepancies in the immigration papers. Given the track record of Immigration NZ, it is not difficult to imagine them colluding with China to similar ends.

Finally, the death sentence could be something of red herring. If China gave formal assurances that the death penalty would not be imposed on a returnee – but then proceeded to execute him or her – the current global system of collusion with the return of fugitives would be discredited. It is the less draconian, totally mundane forms of injustice in the Chinese justice system that should concern us. Under the UN Refugee Convention, we have pledged not to return fugitives to situations where they face death or torture and/or political persecution. The fugitives charged with “economic” crimes in China can claim – often with good reason – that these are really political charges, in convenient disguise.

Will the tribunals in New Zealand that get to hear these claims for asylum be willing to go behind the paperwork, and determine whether these people really are political refugees? Probably not. Everyone, these days, wants to be in China’s good graces.

Save That Superyacht !

If we’re being honest, we probably do have to concede that Tax-The-Rich is not the solution to ALL of life’s problems. This morning, spare a thought for those who need to ensure that their superyachts are being properly looked after. For one reason or another, quite a few of them have been catching on fire lately. Here for instance, is a superyacht called Positive Energy going up in smoke in the Virgin Islands. And here are two super yachts (and other craft) in flames at the Abu Dhabi Marina Yacht Club.

Moving right along, here’s the ‘iconic’ 71 metre superyacht called The One turning into a flaming pile in Turkey, and taking a 52 metre superyacht called the Barbie up with it. Elsewhere in Turkey, the Princess 95 Queen Anna went up in smoke in January.

The Bloomberg News website is understandably worried about this trend, which directly concerns about .00000043 percent of its readers, but which touches them all in an aspirational sense. Could there be something about the design of flaunt-it-if-you-got-it maxi-vessels that brings down fire from Heaven?

It seems more complicated than that. Gi-normous size, gilt fittings and other trappings of conspicuous display do not seem to be contributing factors in spontaneous combustion. On the contrary, it tends to be older, smaller boats with dodgy wiring that pose the biggest fire risks. Yet that points us in the right direction:

If anything, extravagant superyachts (commonly defined as longer than 78 feet) are built to higher standards and tend to be packed to the brim with the latest in flame-resistant construction technology, including automatic steel doors to seal off the ignited area and widespread smoke detecting and fire suppression systems. They must meet rigorous requirements set by international classification societies and appease insurers who are risking multimillion-dollar policies. What they need is upkeep.

Insurance and upkeep? As thrill-seeking superyacht owners feed their jaded emotional palates with exotic and ever more remote locations (all hands south to Antarctica!) the insurance against breakdown and/or rescue costs have escalated. The insurance costs tend to fray against the wiring for that other essential factor, boat maintenance:

The U.S. Superyacht Association estimated the annual cost for operating a 180-foot yacht to be $4.75 million, or roughly an annual expense of about 10 percent of the yacht’s original cost. More space means more equipment, which means more crew, not just while the boat is in use, but also year round. In addition, every 10 years yachts require significant maintenance….If a superyacht is not maintained at an expert level, the sheer size and complexity of the vessel lends itself to more problems that can pose a danger the longer they are ignored.

The owners cannot lash themselves to the tiller to ensure that work gets done. As with their holiday homes in Hawaii, the mega-rich only use their superyachts from time to time. There are deals to be done, opportunities to be seized, and bronzed sons and daughters need to be married off in style. So many distractions. Underlings will scrimp and the maintenance budget may suffer, while the master’s away. That’s probably it. Basically, the fiery doom being inflicted on the superyachts of the rich and powerful may well have its origins in the same process that helped the tycoon class to gain their money in the first place: namely, outsourcing. You can make a pile by contracting out - but in the end, it could well cost you your superyacht.

Songs About Sailing, Sort Of

Not exactly “Sloop John B”… or “Rio” by Duran Duran. Here’s a link to Dylan’s old “When The Ship Comes In “ – one of his early ‘burn the rich and kill their kids’ numbers. In all probability, this was his attempt at replicating the impact of Nina Simone’s version of “Pirate Jenny”.

Talking of Sloop John B….Will Scheff of Okkervil River once managed a fusion of “Sloop John B’ with the suicide of the poet John Betjeman. Likening John B throwing himself off the George Washington Bridge to the freedoms of the jaunty old folk song was a pretty startling young poetry-reading guy kind of move.

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