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China doesn’t hesitate to crack down. Photos by Richard.Fisher.

Whatever you do, don’t try to smuggle heroin into China.

A British man who was caught smuggling a suitcase of heroin into China was put to death this morning. The British government reacted with vigorous condemnation, while the Chinese defended their right to apply the law.

China executed at least 1,718 people in 2008

While many Western democracies have given up the death penalty, China executed at least 1,718 people in 2008, by far the most in the world.

Whatever your feelings on the morality of the death penalty, the biggest story here is China’s increasing tendency to tell the West to piss off when it comes to their domestic policies.

No matter how loudly Britain howled, the Chinese were never going to bend the rules for a drug smuggler. Chinese determination to resist foreign pressure has serious implications for global attempts to deal with all sorts of pressing issues…like climate change.

What do you think about China’s stubbornness in the face of foreign outrage? Please leave a comment below!

 


 

About The Author

Tim Patterson

Tim Patterson is a long-time contributor and former contributing editor at Matador Network.

  • Ahimsa

    This is a tough one. I am opposed to the death penalty entirely. But I have to respect China for not bowing to western pressure. It is patronizing and unfair to try and interfere with another country’s due process, though of course this does happen all of the time. And I feel, at least until the US can do away with the death penalty itself, the West doesn’t have much right to judge other countries.

    • http://evaholland.com Eva

      “But I have to respect China for not bowing to western pressure. It is patronizing and unfair to try and interfere with another country’s due process…”

      I’d have more sympathy for the Chinese government on this front if they didn’t consistently try to control other countries’ actions – like, say, threatening trade sanctions against nations that acknowledge or meet with the Dalai Lama.

      “And I feel, at least until the US can do away with the death penalty itself, the West doesn’t have much right to judge other countries. ”

      This doesn’t make much sense to me. The vast majority of “the West” – ie everyone except the Americans – has abolished the death penalty decades ago. I don’t see why an execution (or many) in Texas should affect the British right to judge/object.

      Look, these situations are always touchy/tricky, particularly where it appears that “First World,” “Western,” what-have-you nations are condemning/patronizing/interfering with less “developed” ones. But a nation always has a right to demand fair treatment for its citizens, regardless of what they’ve done overseas. China, obviously, doesn’t have to listen – but I see nothing wrong whatsoever in Britain issuing some fierce condemnation.

      • Ahimsa

        Eva, I can’t disagree with you. In retrospect, I think terms like “sympathize” or “respect” come across as too endorsing. But I do understand where they’re coming from. It’s no justification, but China has the same opportunity need use weapons like hypocripsy, realpoliick, and expediency as any other other country.

  • http://onceatraveler.com Turner

    One of the stupidest things you can do is try to smuggle drugs into Asia; this guy knew he was facing the death penalty, and chose to take the risk. The only thing that saves people from this punishment in Thailand is foreign pressure, usually resulting in a lesser sentence by the King.

    • http://www.roamingtales.com Caitlin

      You are 100% correct but there’s more to the story in this case. It doesn’t even seem particularly clear that the guy was guilty.

  • http://www.roamingtales.com Caitlin

    >>While many Western democracies have given up the death penalty…

    Are there ANY Western democracies, besides the United States, that still have the death penalty? I can’t think of one.

    I am opposed to the death penalty. Britain doesn’t have the death penalty and it has every right to lobby hard on behalf of its citizens, whatever wrong they have done. He is the first EU national to be executed in China in more than 50 years.

    In this particular case it is said that the man had severe bipolar disorder and his mental illness meant he was duped into carrying a suitcase that didn’t belong to him. He was found with the suitcase in north-west China, not arrested upon entry at the border. He was a father of three. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/8433285.stm)

    But yes, I agree with you that China is increasingly not going to listen. I’m not sure they ever really did pay too much attention to what the rest of the world thinks but I do find the timing of this interesting. He was arrested in September 2007. The execution comes right after the UK Government directly accused China of sabotaging the Copenhagen climate talks. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/dec/20/copenhagen-climate-change-accord). It could well be a coincidence but it makes me wonder.

    • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/rsw Tim Patterson

      Thanks for the links, Caitlin!

  • Frank

    Does it really matter what anybody thinks on this matter? China just sentenced somebody yesterday to 11 years in prison for merely signing a petition. When has Beijing ever bowed to international pressure unless it was in the Chinese Communist Party’s self-interest?

    • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/rsw Tim Patterson

      You’re right – China doesn’t have a history of bending to international pressure (at least post 1949). But it does seem that as the Chinese grow more rich and influential they are more determined than ever to stand up for themselves.

  • http://www.dailytravelphotos.com Pius Lee

    Caitlin, can you elaborate? I haven’t read anywhere this guy was anything but guilty.

    • http://www.roamingtales.com Caitlin

      Hi Pius, My comment was held for moderation because of links but it’s been approved now, so your questions should be answered above. In summary, he wasn’t arrested at trying to smuggle drugs over the border but found with a suitcase somewhere in north-west China. It’s claimed he was severely mentally ill and duped into carrying someone else’s suitcase.

      • http://www.dailytravelphotos.com Pius Lee

        Caitlin, you say:

        He was found with the suitcase in north-west China, not arrested upon entry at the border. He was a father of three. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/8433285.stm)

        I still don’t see this anywhere in the article you linked. Are you interpreting a bit of the language in the article and then adding your own “not arrested upon entry at the border”?

        The fact that he (through his family) claims he was duped into carrying the dope means he had it on him… does it not? Therefore, I don’t think guilt was ever in question.

        • http://www.roamingtales.com Caitlin

          The article says he was found in Urumqi. If you look at a map, you’ll see that this isn’t on the border.

          No one has disputed that he was found with a suitcase of heroin. That is not the only relevant fact in determining guilt. You can be found not guilty for any number of reasons.

          Maybe he was guilty (ie. he was deliberately carrying heroin and his decision making abilities were fully functional), maybe he wasn’t. Such a decision is one for the courts. I just happen to be sceptical about his chances of a fair trial in China.

          • http://www.dailytravelphotos.com Pius Lee

            I see where you’re confused. I’m curious why you assume he crossed a land border.

            He flew in.

          • http://www.roamingtales.com Caitlin

            I don’t know why I made that assumption either. The stories I read just said he was found with a suitcase of heroin in Urumqi, which didn’t make me think of the airport. You are correct – he was arrested at Urumqi airport.

            But jeez, reading the story of his life, it sounds like he’d been mentally ill for years. Seriously, what a tale of woe. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akmal_Shaikh

            The Chinese courts just laughed at his incoherent testimony and refused to permit any kind of psychiatric evaluation. Their position was that since he hadn’t previously been diagnosed with a mental illness, this was proof that he wasn’t mentally ill.

          • http://www.roamingtales.com Caitlin

            I think if he’d been arrested in eastern China I would have assumed he’d flown in. Somehow because he was found in the western half of the country, I assumed he’d been there a while. And there was also the phrasing of the article – it’s weird that it didn’t mention he’d been arrested at the airport, just a vague mention of him being “found with the suitcase”. Still, no excuse really! I’m a journalist so I shouldn’t make such assumptions.

            All the same, my other points and concerns still hold.

  • David

    Why should China bend to our pressure? Why would we want China to ignore their laws? Why do we care about this 1 western criminal and not all the criminals? Why do we care about the criminals?

    Yes we may have different views on capital punishment and yes we should lobby as we see fit, but that does not mean the other party must bend to our will.

    Regardless of personally circumstances we all should be held accountable for our actions. Perhaps we should all be a little more aware of what may result from our actions.

    When I travel, especially out of country, I think it’s my obligation to respect the laws of that land otherwise I’m not a very good guest.

    I would suggest if you find the laws/punishment of China or any country unacceptable that you either don’t go there or at least not commit crimes there!

    • http://onceatraveler.com Turner

      David, you’ve stumbled upon a grey subject among expats/travelers/etc: when you do settle abroad, be in months, years, or a lifetime, should you always be treated like a guest? Should you always act like a guest?

      In so many Asian cultures, there’s a tendency to keep foreigners at a distance when it comes to fitting in. As long as you play your part as the tourist, locals generally don’t have a problem with you. But should you say “I like it here, and I want to stay”, and find yourself treated the same way from all sides, well, what then?

  • Adam Roy

    While I’m absolutely opposed to the death penalty in any country, I think it’s a little ridiculous to say that just because the US has it, we can’t criticize China’s use of it.

    In the United States, you can appeal your sentence just about endlessly – this is why people spend so much time in jail before their executions, and why it’s so incredibly costly to put someone to death. Not the case in China – the judicial process doesn’t give as much of a chance to convicts.

    He may have not been an innocent man (smuggling 4 kg of heroin into anywhere is a terrible act that is going to end up hurting a lot of people) but, especially with the doubts about his mental state (bipolar disorder is a hell of a disease), executing him was a terrible decision on China’s part.

  • Frank

    China executed over 1700 people this year, many for committing crimes far less egregious than importing heroin. The Chinese fought two wars against the British Empire when it attempted to get the entire country addicted to opium, so it is somewhat understandable why they have a zero tolerance for narcotics. Is no one ever held accountable for one’s actions?

    • http://www.roamingtales.com Caitlin

      You (and many other commenters) seem to be taking it on face value that the guy was guilty, when the facts are far less clear (see above).

  • Hal

    I’m absolutely opposed to the death penalty anywhere, but what about the Chinese wider massacres in places like Tibet in ’08 and then in this other province of theirs this past summer? In fact I’m opposed to travel to China whatsoever until it starts observing the minimal human rights. The “rule of law” is what the self-serving interests of the Chinese Communist Party dictate. They were even issuing death threats pre-Beijing Olympics against U.S. correspondents in any way critical of the Tibetan situation. All facts conveniently overlooked by some travel bloggers who make a buck out of China travel, George Bush and Olympic athletes each for their own self-serving, selfish motives.

    • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/rsw Tim Patterson

      I hear your point, Hal, but boycotting travel to China entirely is an unproductive reaction. China is a big, important country and lots of people live there. We need more cross-cultural exchange, not less.

  • Luca

    “In so many Asian cultures, there’s a tendency to keep foreigners at a distance when it comes to fitting in. As long as you play your part as the tourist, locals generally don’t have a problem with you. But should you say “I like it here, and I want to stay”, and find yourself treated the same way from all sides, well, what then?”

    Turner, that’s when we experience how it is to be a minority in a society. Similar to those who are not Caucasian (or even Black) in America, or in Europe, even after a family has been born and raised in that particular country for generations.

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  • http://thisopenroad.wordpress.com/ Robyn

    I know this is an old post, but I’m interested bec I am possibly going to be teaching in China next fall via a Teacher Exchange Program. I’d like to know if others have taught and/or lived extensively there.

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