Law experts have called for the death penalty to be dropped as punishment for non-violent crimes to ease the extradition of some 4,000 suspected corrupt officials who have fled abroad.
Although top legislature and court sources have told China Daily there are so far no concrete plans, moves are already being taken to ensure a more reliable and just capital punishment system.
According to a report from the Ministry of Commerce, more than 4,000 Chinese corrupt officials have fled overseas in recent years, taking with them around US$50 billion in stolen funds.
Despite that China has extradition treaties with more than 20 countries, the United States, Japan, Canada and many other countries where fugitives run to, are not among them, said Chu Huaizhi, law professor with Peking University, Xinhua News Agency reported.
Some countries hesitate to sign extradition treaties with China, partially because Chinese courts can hand down the death sentence for non-violent offences, such as corruption, he said.
If the suspected corrupt officials were not threatened with the death penalty, countries may be more willing to co-operate with China to extradite them, and some may not have fled in the first place, Chu added.
Forty, mostly non-violent, offences were added to the list of crimes punishable by death under the 1997 Criminal Law reform and there are currently a total of 68 crimes that can result in the death penalty, sources said.
"Chinese scholars on the Criminal Law have reached a common understanding that China should gradually get rid of the death penalty," Chen Xingliang, vice-president and professor at the Law School of Peking University, told China Daily.
"To abolish the death sentence is a world trend and China should conform to it," he said.
Another Criminal Law scholar, Professor Zhao Bingzhi, from the Renmin University of China, said, as the first step, the death penalty should be dropped against non-violent crimes.
Afterwards, crimes that do not violate human lives should be exempted, the professor said.
Zhao said he hoped, eventually, the death penalty would disappear from China completely.
But sources with the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislature, said they do not, as yet, have any plans to eradicate the death penalty.
According to the five-year legislation plan adopted by the NPC Standing Committee in 2003, legislators are due to discuss a draft to the amendment to the Criminal Law, which could touch on the capital punishment issue.
"It is impossible to say what items in the law will be revised until the relevant Standing Committee conference decides," a source told China Daily.
Sources with the Supreme People's Court said the death penalty was a legislation issue, the court merely acted in accordance with current laws.
According to a report by the China News Service, the Supreme People's Court may withdraw the right to review cases in which the death sentence has been passed from next year.
Currently, the provincial, municipal and autonomous region levels of high people's courts review cases in which the death sentence has been passed ahead of execution.
Some cases in which innocent people were executed have emerged in recent years.
Premier Wen Jiabao said at a press conference in March after the NPC annual session that China will not drop the death penalty.
"More than half the countries in the world still have the death penalty," he said.
Wen vowed to adopt effective systems to ensure the reliable and just use of capital punishment.
(China Daily August 13, 2005)