BEIJING (Reuters) - China hailed the return by the United States on Friday of one of China’s most prominent fugitives wanted for corruption as good progress and a foundation for cooperation days before President Xi Jinping begins a landmark U.S. visit.
The repatriation of Yang Jinjun marked the first time that China has succeeded in getting a person back from the United States who was on a list of 100 wanted corruption suspects published in April, the graft-fighting Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) said.
The list is part of “Sky Net”, an initiative China unveiled in March to coordinate its fight against suspected corrupt officials who have fled overseas and to recover their ill-gotten assets.
Chinese officials have long complained that China’s anti-corruption fight has been hampered by a reluctance by Western countries to sign extradition treaties.
China does not have extradition treaties with the United States or Canada - the most popular destinations for suspected economic criminals from China.
“Yang Jinjun’s return to China fully shows that China’s efforts to recover dirty assets and dirty people is daily gaining support in the international community and shows that no matter how far away corrupt elements run or for how long, we will do all we can to get them back,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a news briefing.
“The return of Yang Jinjun to China is important progress in this area for both countries and has created a good basis for further cooperation going forward,” he added.
State television showed a handcuffed Yang, flanked by policemen, being led off a private jet at Fuzhou airport in southeastern China. An official read out a statement to him, saying he would be taken to Zhejiang province and detained there.
The CCDI said Sino-U.S. law enforcement and judicial departments had “joined hands in the fight against cross-border corruption offences”.
Yang’s repatriation “has laid an important foundation for cooperation”, it said in a statement on its website.
Xi begins his trip to the United States, his first state visit there, early next week and is due to hold talks with President Barack Obama.
The run-up to the trip has been overshadowed by arguments over cybersecurity and China’s claims in the South China Sea, so the repatriation marks a rare positive note.
The failure by China to secure the return of suspects from the United States has been an irritant in ties. The United States has said it is not averse to cooperating on the issue but China has often failed to produce the kind of evidence of criminality needed under U.S. law to support deportation.
Yang, who fled to the United States in 2001, was the general manager of a company called Minghe Group in Wenzhou city, the CCDI said. He is wanted on suspicion of corruption and bribery and had been subject to an Interpol “red notice”.
Officials say only about a dozen people on the “Sky Net” list of 100 have been returned to China, most from countries with close ties to Beijing.
Editing by Paul Tait and Robert Birsel