Will the DOJ Hand Back Political Fugitives to China?

Justice Department spokesman Mark Abueg has a tough job on his hands. He has to announce to the media and thus the world at large that American policy towards Chinese fugitives will be different under the Trump administration. Taking into account that the word “fugitive” is at best a relative term in Communist China.

The issue is Chinese former officials and/or business people (it's a little hard to tell the difference at times) who have fled China and are now in America. The prime mover for their fleeing China is President Xi's anti-corruption probe, one that has been criticized as nothing more than a power grab that seeks to jail former top officials, and other lower-ranking officials as well as business leaders, on what are really political charges. There may very well have been acts of fraud or money laundering or bribes involved. But that seems hardly newsworthy in China. bribes are acceptable until they are not. And then the punishment is usually severe. So people flee. To America naturally.

What should American policy be in this case? Here's what DOJ spokesman Abueg said:

(the United States) is not a safe haven for fugitives from any nation. We are an international leader in anti-corruption and will continue to work with partners across the globe to advance the fight against corruption.

That's a rather surprising statement. It means that America will take almost at face value the prosecutions of foreigners by their home states, regardless of whether those foreign justice systems (and political systems in general) are reasonably transparent and democratic. And they will trade those fugitives for American interests seems to be the unstated implication.

This would indeed be an example of realpolitick foreign policy. And it would sit uncomfortably with any notion of American exceptionalism and America as a safe harbor for true political refugees from around the world. And it seems to flow directly from Chinese requests that America return so-called fugitives to China. And it is also a stern application of an America First policy that ensures that America's strategic interests come first over any humanitarian considerations. Even if there are exceptions to that policy. Like, arguably, the cruise missile attack on Syria.

Is it in America's strategic interests to bargain with China over supposed fugitives? Fugitives that China hunts down under it's Operation Fox Hunt, with teams of secret agents dispatched around the globe to round up or even kill those fleeing Chinese. DOJ spokesman Abueg added this qualifier to his above statement:

For these cases to be successful, however, China must provide evidence to the Department of Justice. If that happens, the Department of Justice will take appropriate enforcement actions.

As AG Sessions tours the southern border and instructs his DOJ to enforce the law already on the books when it comes to criminal gangs, repeat offenders, drug traffickers, and coyotes (people traffickers); and 9th circuit judges give anyone around the world rights only afforded to American citizens in the constitution; the notion that the Justice Department must now rule on the legality of Chinese (and other countries as well) prosecutions that may be more political than criminal, is politically ambitious and legally confusing.

In other words, it will be a political and not really a legal decision by the DOJ to hand over to China any fugitive that China demands be returned in order to stand trial and be jailed for years and years. America has traded spies for generations, but this is much more far reaching, and will inevitably result in court challenges in America.

Let's hope President Trump has negotiated some clear and present benefits from his Chinese counterpart in their meeting at Mar-a-Lago; before the DOJ beings handing back fugitives to China. Because it may be a costly move politically for this administration.

Posted by Keeley at April 13, 2017 2:12 PM
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