Australia holds emergency meet with China after extradition treaty failure

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia’s foreign minister held an emergency meeting with the Chinese ambassador in the wake of Canberra’s failure to ratify an extradition treaty with China, a source familiar with the situation said on Wednesday.

Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop speaks during a visit in Davao city, southern Philippines March 17, 2017. REUTERS/Lean Daval Jr

Australia cancelled a parliamentary vote on Tuesday to finally ratify an extradition treaty with China, 10 years after it was signed, with the government set for an embarrassing defeat amid opposition on the grounds of China’s humanitarian record.

Eager to head-off any possible diplomatic fallout, Bishop met with China’s ambassador to Australia, Cheng Jingye, on Tuesday, the source said. The Australian newspaper reported that the ambassador expressed “disappointment” at the cancelled vote.

The meeting came just hours after China’s Foreign Ministry called on Australia to approve the treaty.

In Beijing, ministry spokesman Lu Kang did not answer a question about the meeting between Bishop and Cheng, but repeated that approving the treaty would help both countries fight cross-border crime and was in their joint interests.

“We hope that Australia keeps in mind the broader picture of bilateral relations and both countries’ interests and can continue to promote the relevant domestic process so this treaty can go into enforcement as soon as possible,” Lu told a daily news briefing.

If Australia had ratified the pact, it would have become one of the few Western countries besides France and Spain to enter into an extradition treaty with China.

The failure to enact the treaty is a rare dent to Sino-Australia relations, which have soared in recent months, culminating in the spate of trade agreements signed last week following the five-day visit of Chinese China Premier Li Keqiang.

Beyond the diplomatic blow, it is also a setback in China’s overseas hunt for corrupt officials and business executives who have fled abroad with their assets, dubbed Operation Fox Hunt.

And it comes at a time when Australia is seeking closer cooperation with Chinese law enforcement to stem a rising tide of synthetic drugs trafficked from southern China, and when three Australian employees of casino operator Crown Resorts Ltd remain in Chinese custody following their arrest in November 2016 for alleged gambling offences.

Reporting by Colin Packham; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Michael Perry and Clarence Fernandez