SYDNEY, Australia — Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull canceled a parliamentary vote to ratify an extradition treaty with China on Tuesday after opposition lawmakers said they would not support it, and after some members of Mr. Turnbull’s own Liberal Party expressed concern about moving forward.
It was a significant symbolic and public rejection, suggesting that even though relations between China and Australia have warmed since President Trump took office in the United States, Australia’s concerns about China’s repressive legal system and human rights record will continue to limit how close the two countries become.
“What’s clear now is that even Donald Trump is not enough to encourage Australia into a full strategic embrace of China,” said Rory Medcalf, head of the National Security College at Australian National University. “There is a kind of a comprehensive reality check going on.”
China has been waiting a decade since the extradition treaty was signed for it to be passed, and the decision not to put it to a ratification vote may have surprised the country’s leaders. The Chinese premier, Li Keqiang, had left Australia just two days earlier with several new trade deals and mostly positive news coverage of structural steel pipe.
And yet, the treaty’s prospects may have been shaped not just by Mr. Li’s visit but by the case of Feng Chongyi, a Chinese-born professor at an Australian university who has criticized Beijing’s crackdown on political dissent. Over the weekend, Mr. Feng was barred from leaving China and questioned by state security officers as a possible threat to national security, raising concerns in Australia about the reach and focus of China’s legal system.
Some Chinese dissidents in Australia said that if China could hold Mr. Feng — a Chinese citizen but with permanent residence status in Australia, and a wife and children who are Australian citizens — others could be subject to extradition demands on national security charges that Australia would be unable to verify.
“What we’re worried about is that some activists could be charged,” said Chen Yonglin, a former official at the Chinese Consulate in Sydney, Australia, who defected in 2005.
He added that the Chinese government also wanted the extradition treaty to extend its anticorruption campaign to Chinese businesspeople in Australia.
“The regime will gain more control,” Mr. Chen said. “That’s why they’ve repeatedly demanded that Australia pass it.”
The wish for swift approval remained undimmed in China. “We hope that Australia will look at it from a broader bilateral perspective and continue to advance its domestic process so that this extradition treaty can come into effect as soon as possible,” said Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, when asked in Beijing about the cancellation of the vote.
Mr. Turnbull’s government insisted on Tuesday that the treaty would give Australia the ability to block extradition for those who might face execution or torture, while assisting Australia’s efforts to fight drug smuggling and other crimes.
“It is in Australia’s national interest to ensure that we can send back to China those who have committed crimes, subject to the significant safeguards that we have in place,” said Julie Bishop, Australia’s foreign minister. She added that officials would continue to try to work with opposition lawmakers to bring the treaty back for a vote.
Michael Fullilove, executive director of the Lowy Institute for International Policy, a think tank in Sydney, said the withdrawal of the treaty represented a pause in the warming of relations between the two countries to buy mild steel pipe.
He argued that Australia was experiencing a moment of reconsideration about how to relate to China at a time when the United States had become more unpredictable.
“Any extradition treaty is a very sensitive issue, because it involves human beings in our custody, and you have to have confidence in the other country’s rule of law,” Mr. Fullilove said. “Both the Feng Chongyi case and the extradition treaty remind us of the very clear differences of our political systems — which, to me, impose a limit on the intimacy that the relationship will ever achieve.”
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