Countries from the Asia and Pacific region have agreed to establish an anti-corruption transparency network. Ministers from the 21 APEC nations are meeting in Beijing ahead of the group's annual summit.
Members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) said on Saturday the network would be an informal structure to facilitate "information sharing" among anti-corruption and law enforcement authorities in the Asia-Pacific region.
The initiative, launched by Beijing, has been called the APEC Network of Anti-Corruption Authorities and Law Enforcement Agencies (ACT-NET).
It commits the 21 APEC countries, including the United States and China, to "deny safe haven to those engaged in corruption, including through extradition, mutual legal assistance and the recovery and return of proceeds of corruption," a joint-statement from APEC members said.
Western governments have resisted making extradition deals with China in the past because corruption crimes there are often punished with the death penalty. China has extradition treaties with 38 countries, but not with the United States, Australia or Canada, which have "the highest concentrations of corrupt officials," according to Wang Yukai, an anti-corruption expert at the Chinese Academy of Governance.
"It will be of great significance if China can build cooperative mechanisms with these countries to capture corrupt officials on the run and recover some economic losses," he added.
According to Beijing, tens of thousands of corrupt officials and employees of state-owned enterprises have fled China with assets running into the millions of dollars. The government this year launched a wide reaching campaign dubbed Operation Fox Hunt to target suspects abroad. The operation has so far brought back 180 individuals, most of them from Asia, South America and Africa.
US Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters in Beijing that the network, a first for the region, was a "major step forward."
Saturday's meeting comes ahead of next week's gathering of leaders - including US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin - at the two-day APEC summit in the Chinese capital.
'Roadmap' for free trade deal
Ministers from APEC members also agreed on Saturday to start work on a Beijing-backed free trade deal for the region.
According to the Chinese minister of commerce, Gao Hucheng, the group endorsed a proposal to launch a "strategic study" of the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP), due to be completed by the end of 2016.
"We believe this roadmap will guide the substantive process in the coming year," Gao said.
The free trade zone would cover many of the Pacific Rim countries, including the United States and China, and is expected to be a major item on the agenda at the upcoming summit. Beijing is hosting the event for the first time since 2001, and its enthusiastic promotion of the FTAAP is being seen by analysts as an effort to expand its influence in US-dominated global trade policy.
At the meeting the US is also promoting its own regional trade pact, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which excludes Beijing.
APEC accounts for 40 percent of the world's population and almost half of global trade.
nm/bw (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)