The United States has returned the businessman Chinese state media have called the nation’s “most wanted economic fugitive,” Beijing said Friday, welcoming the move as a sign of “progress” in the two countries’ cooperation in law enforcement.
The repatriation follows years of negotiations with the administration of Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is likely to discuss further collaboration at his highly anticipated meeting with President Barack Obama in Washington, D.C., next week.
Chinese authorities have accused Yang Jinjun of corruption and bribery during his time as general manager of petrochemical company Minghe Group in the eastern Chinese industrial city of Wenzhou.
China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency said Friday that Beijing “appreciates” the U.S. decision to return Yang to China, heralding it as a harbinger of “progress in China-U.S. anti-graft cooperation.”
Yang, who fled to the U.S. in 2001, is on a list of 100 Chinese economic fugitives that Beijing has requested the U.S. send back to the People’s Republic. He is the first from the list to have been repatriated.
Chinese diplomats, in their interviews with Al Jazeera, had expressed frustrations with Washington’s past non-compliance on the repatriations, particularly as Xi’s anti-corruption campaign continues to build momentum. There is currently no extradition treaty between Washington and Beijing.
“Chinese government is resolute in its determination to fight and punish corruption,” Zhu Haiquan, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy, told Al Jazeera earlier.
“There should be no such thing as a ‘safe haven’ for corrupt officials. No matter how far they run away and how long they hide away, they will be hunted down by the Chinese government, and justice will be served,” he said.
The U.S. State Department and Justice Department had not responded to interview requests on the topic at time of publication. Previously the U.S. had been reluctant to send fugitives back to China, where prosecutors can pursue the death penalty in some corruption cases.
Yang is the first of those alleged fugitives to be repatriated to China from the U.S., following numerous requests at the annual U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue and a meeting of Obama and Xi in January.
“President Xi Jinping and President Barack Obama have also agreed upon enhancing cooperation against corruption during their meeting on the sidelines of APEC,” Zhu said, referring to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in the Philippines.
Zhu was unable at the time to discuss the developments that may have resulted in Yang’s repatriation, which Chinese state media hailed as a part of Beijing’s renewed push in April to bring overseas fugitives to justice, operation “Sky Net.” Yang is the 12th person to be repatriated to China in that operation.
Since Xi came to power in December 2012, he has embarked on a sweeping anti-corruption campaign that has undone many among the nation’s elite, in both the public and private sectors. One result, Al Jazeera reporting has revealed, has been an outpouring of wealth into investments considered more stable, especially in the U.S.