By Michael Martina
BEIJING (Reuters) - Canada agreed to start talks about an extradition treaty with China rather than formal negotiations for such a deal, Canada's ambassador to China said on Friday, adding that returning suspects would have to meet Canadian legal standards.
Canada and China said this month they would talk about a possible extradition treaty, which China has long wanted so it can press for the return of people who it says are corrupt officials who have fled to Canada.
Many Western countries are reluctant to sign extradition deals with China, partly out of concern about the integrity of its judicial system and treatment of prisoners.
Ambassador Guy Saint-Jacques said there had been some confusion about what was agreed during Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's visit to China in late August and early September, which preceded Chinese Premier Li Keqiang's visit to Canada later in September.
During Trudeau's visit to China the two sides had launched a high-level national security and rule of law dialogue, Saint-Jacques told reporters.
"As part of the creation of this dialogue we agreed to start discussions on an extradition treaty, which is different from starting negotiations on an extradition treaty," he said, adding media jumped to the conclusion that they had agreed to begin negotiations.
"Our courts will decide ultimately if a person can be sent back to China," Saint-Jacques said.
Canada will use this dialogue to explain the requirements in terms of the evidence that has to be put together, he added.
"Our hope is to expose them to our way of administering justice," he said, adding that returning suspect has to be done in "full respect of Canadian laws".
Saint-Jacques, who leaves his post in October, said he could see a future where an extradition agreement was in place but China "will have to satisfy our tribunals".
The two countries said they would explore the issue shortly before Kevin Garratt, a Canadian held in China for two years and charged with spying, was released and sent back to Canada.
Garratt's deportation came just days after Trudeau's Beijing visit, and sparked questions about what Canada had given up to secure his freedom.
Trudeau, who is trying to improve ties and increase trade with the world's second-largest economy after a decade of rocky relations under his predecessor, gave few details about extradition treaty talks during Li's trip to Ottawa.
Canada refuses to send people to countries without assurances they will not be executed.
China has been trying to get increased international cooperation to hunt down corrupt officials since President Xi Jinping began his war against graft nearly four years ago.
(Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel)