In March 2015, China announced the commencement of Operation Skynet the latest initiative in Chinese President Xi Jinping’s much-publicised anti-corruption drive. The Chinese Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the body within the People’s Republic of China charged by President Xi with investigating allegations of bribery and corruption against party officials, states that Skynet’s objectives includes the repatriation of suspects who have fled overseas, as well as the assets they are said to have misappropriated. Skynet represents one plank of a wider campaign to repatriate former cadres and others suspected of economic wrongdoing. In February, the PRC secured the extradition from Italy of a Chinese woman accused of fraud, as part of the CCDI’s Operation Fox Hunt , a predecessor to Skynet. That same month, Reuters reported that, again under the aegis of Operation Fox Hunt, a delegation of US officials are to meet Chinese counterparts to discuss the possibility of repatriating around 150 Chinese officials alleged to have fled to the US with billions of dollars of stolen assets.

As the US has no formal extradition treaty with China, formal negotiations are contemplated between the two nations to find alternative solutions, including deportation for violation of US immigration law, or ad hoc extradition arrangements outside a formal treaty between the two nations.Does Operation Skynet present a risk for Chinese nationals now resident in the UK? Whilst having no formal extradition treaty with the PRC (given concerns over China’s human rights record), the UK cannot necessarily be said to be safe haven for Chinese citizens. Under the Extradition Act 2003, extradition may occur without a formal treaty arrangement in place where the requested person is suspected of committing criminal offences deemed extraditable by international conventions to which the UK, and the third party state, are both signatories (including the UN Convention Against Corruption). Alternatively, individual ad hoc arrangements may be agreed between the UK and a third party state: it was this mechanism that, in 2012, enabled the extradition of David Price from China to the UK to serve a sentence of imprisonment for child sex offences. Given London’s position as a global financial hub, and its long-established Chinese community, it would seem only a matter of time before Operation Skynet or any successor results in a novel incoming extradition request to the UK from the Chinese authorities. Any such request would face significant hurdles.

Even where the UK government could be persuaded to entertain it as a matter of policy, requests for extradition have been refused by the courts where proven to be politically motivated: President Xi’s crackdown on corruption has been criticised as an attempt to secure his own position within the ruling Communist Party. Extradition may also be barred where the extradition of the requested person would risk an unjustified or unjustifiable interference with their rights under the European Convention: China has a poor human rights record, and executes more prisoners each year than all other nations in the world put together. That said, extradition, although unlikely, is possible all the same, and Chinese nationals who suspect they have earned the ire of the ruling elite in Beijing would be well advised act with some circumspection, particularly when crossing borders.