Asia-Pacific ministers pledge to step up graft fight

1 / 4

Visitors walk past a sign promoting the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Beijing on November 8, 2104

Visitors walk past a sign promoting the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Beijing on November 8, 2104 (AFP Photo/Wang Zhao)

Beijing (AFP) - China secured backing from Asia-Pacific ministers Saturday to deepen anti-graft efforts, in a move that dovetails with a high-profile Communist Party "fox hunt" for corrupt officials who have fled abroad.

The anti-corruption proposal is said to have been pushed by China and backed by the United States at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) gathering in Beijing, which culminates in a two-day summit of leaders from 21 member-economies starting Monday.

US Secretary of State John Kerry hailed the moved as a "major step forward" in combatting graft.

"Corruption not only creates an unfair playing field, it not only distorts economic relationships, but corruption also steals from the people of every country the belief that the system can work for everybody," he told reporters in Beijing.

But it remained unclear how effective the move would be, amid apprehension in some countries over returning suspects to China due to fears they could be subject to abuse and denied legal due process.

China in July launched its so-called "Fox Hunt" -- a campaign to bring back corrupt officials or their family members who have moved abroad, taking ill-gotten gains with them.

Since taking office last year, President Xi Jinping has made the graft fight a central theme of his administration as public anger swells over widespread corruption.

A report attributed to China's central bank and leaked three years ago said that as many as 18,000 corrupt officials had left the country between the 1990s and 2008, taking as much as $123 billion with them.

- 'Deny safe haven' -

In a statement, APEC ministers pledged to step up nascent anti-corruption efforts with a regional commitment to "deny safe haven to those engaged in corruption, including through extradition".

But they stressed that such moves would be "subject to domestic laws and policies" and needed to be carried out "in accordance with fundamental legal principles of each economy".

"We, APEC member economies, recognise that corruption impedes economic sustainability and development, threatens social security and fairness, undermines the rule of law, and erodes government accountability, as well as public trust," the statement said.

It pledged to establish an office for the day-to-day running of the APEC Network of Anti-Corruption Authorities and Law Enforcement Agencies (ACT-NET), a body coordinating anti-corruption efforts that was launched by Chinese and US officials in August.

The office will "assist in detecting, investigating and prosecuting corruption, bribery, money laundering, and illicit trade" and seek cooperation on tracking cases across borders.

China has recently announced stepped-up efforts to extradite former officials suspected of corruption from countries including Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

Australian police said last month that they would work with their Chinese counterparts to track down and seize illegal assets, but foreign concerns over the country's legal system linger.

Anti-corruption efforts with the ruling Communist Party are carried out by an internal body which operates without any legal oversight, and there is concern that the crackdown may be used for political faction-fighting.

APEC Secretariat Executive Director Alan Bollard said Thursday the proposal had been championed by China and the United States.

Bollard said any anti-corruption effort "needs to happen within the different laws and legal structures" of APEC members, but the statement did not spell out how this would work.

"Corruption impedes economic sustainability and development, threatens social security and fairness," the ministers added.