New Zealand will allow extraditions to China

Foreign Affairs

Kyung Yup Kim, a South Korea-born resident of New Zealand accused of killing a woman in Shanghai, is set to be sent back to China to face trial for homicide.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta says she believes China’s assurances. Photo taken in 2021 by Robert Kitchin/AAPIMAGE via Reuters.

New Zealand’s top court ruled in a 3-2 decision on Wednesday that the government could extradite a man suspected of murder back to China — a landmark ruling that, if tabled, will be the first time the nation has sent a resident to face trial in the Asian country.

The court claimed that it could trust assurances from China that the defendant would “not be at risk of torture or of an unfair trial if he were extradited,” including a guarantee that he would be tried in Shanghai and permitted visits throughout the investigation at least every 48 hours.

  • The accused is Kyung Yup Kim (known as Jīn Jīngyè 金京叶 in China) a South Korean-born resident of New Zealand.
  • He was arrested in 2011 after China requested New Zealand to extradite him for killing a 20-year-old waitress and sex worker, surnamed Chén 陈, in Shanghai in 2009.
  • Though China did not have a treaty with New Zealand in 2011, Beijing made the extradition request on an ad-hoc basis, which nations sometimes do.
  • New Zealand’s Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta is reported to have written that “she believed China’s assurances could be relied on for how Kim would be treated [which] struck a markedly different tone from the wording used by New Zealand’s allies to describe China.”

Activists immediately objected to the decision: Michael Caster, co-founder of rights group Safeguard Defenders, said the ruling set a legal and political precedent that would encourage courts and governments around the world to believe China’s diplomatic assurances and extradite non-Chinese nationals to China.

  • “Kim’s case stems from terrible injustice[…] But there is no reason for [New Zealand] to compound injustice and set this deeply disturbing precedent,” Sophie Richardson of Human Rights Watch tweeted.

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China has concluded bilateral extradition treaties with almost 60 countries, including many Western democracies from the EU, though many critics have sown doubt about a fair trial under China’s often-murky criminal justice system and the potential overreach of an extradition treaty to target dissidents.

  • Though China invokes legal measures where possible, such as deportation or removal agreements, it “frequently relies on formal international extradition procedures to reach its goal,” wrote Jerome A. Cohen, a veteran scholar of Chinese law who has experience as a lawyer on the ground in China.
  • No common law country has ratified an extradition treaty with China, though both Australia and Hong Kong came close, before similar concerns about the justice system in China nixed the proposal.
  • Back in 2020, New Zealand joined a list of other nations that suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong over the “deeply concerning” national security law, citing fears over the city’s autonomy from the mainland.

The move is almost certain to stoke further distrust among some New Zealand residents over China’s influence on their government. Although the subject is rarely discussed in New Zelaand’s major news media, there are some who worry that New Zealand’s reliance on exporting to China has already neutered the government in Wellington.

Nadya Yeh