Just months after the Australian Parliament scuttled a push to ratify an extradition treaty with China, the Australian Federal Police has returned more than $200,000 in proceeds from crime, in a move aiming to highlight law enforcement cooperation between the two countries.
AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin presented a cheque to a senior official from the Ministry of Public Security ahead of an international law-enforcement cooperation meeting in Beijing this week.
The two countries also signed agreements to formalise a framework around any future attempts by China to pursue corruption suspects residing in Australia, as part of its 'Fox Hunt' campaign to target overseas graft fugitives.
China previously ruffled feathers when it was revealed undercover investigators had been sent to Australia to try to convince corruption suspects to return to China.
The pursuit of suspects living abroad has been a big part of President Xi Jinping's anti-graft drive, and two years ago China's Government published a list detailing 100 top suspects, including 10 residing in Australia.
Earlier this year it published home address details for some of them in a further attempt to add pressure.
But only a small number have been persuaded — or coerced — into returning to China, despite what one insider describes as "constant" requests from the Chinese side, and the lack of a ratified extradition treaty makes Beijing's attempts to pursue suspects more difficult.
A planned overhaul of China's anti-corruption apparatus may aim to change that.
An Australian source privy to recent discussions believes the establishment of a stand-alone anti-corruption body, the National Supervision Commission, partly aims to reassure overseas counterparts that they are dealing with a government body, rather than the Communist Party's Central Committee for Discipline Inspection (CCDI).
The CCDI has been leading the anti-graft campaign including its overseas fugitive campaigns.
The commission is likely to be formalised at next year's annual National People's Congress in March.
"From the viewpoint of the Australian authorities, it would be obviously wise to welcome this development to ease any friction resulting from the Australian withdrawal of the extradition treaty," said Kevin Boreham, an international law specialist at ANU.
"The downside would be that this initiative could be seen as a vehicle for pressuring the Australian authorities to cooperate on the return of such people."