It's very sad to learn that the Chinese authorities went ahead and executed British national Akmal Shaikh by lethal injection. Although he was caught carrying 4kg of heroin, this was no drugs baron who might have been a continuing threat to Chinese society. He was a weak bit of social flotsam who it appears was suffering a bipolar mental disorder. The fact that he was a Muslim probably isolated him even more.
China should have been bigger and shown compassion even in the face of extreme provocation from a hostile British government eager to scapegoat it over the Copenhagen failure. Brown and Ed Miliband are fully aware that they can't insult a nation like China and expect them to roll over and comply. We don't own half the world any more and Brits with drugs in China are likely to press some deep buttons especially in the light of current hostilities and past history.
Under different circumstances there was more than enough of an excuse for China to show leniency. Fahim wrote in an online discussion:
Most death sentences are never actually carried out. A uniquely Chinese sentence system called 'death penalty with 2 yrs probation', means that as long as you don't commit any further offences within 2 yrs your sentence is generally reduced to life. In 2003 a local court sentenced a triad leader to death with 2 yrs probation, but a public outcry led to the supreme court retrying the case which resulted in a death penalty carried out immediately.
But how likely was that with the utter lack of meaningful diplomacy on show from our government and the savaging in the British press? The hypocrisy of some of the media's breast-beating is sickening in the light of their recent misreporting — we'll never know for certain if the execution is in part a result of their hollow war-like cries. Newspapers that shrieked "China holds the world to ransom" when it's now clear that no such thing happened now scream inflammatory headlines about Shaikh. When will you lot cut out the testosterone? It doesn't help.
But China! I'm glad to hear they wish to phase out the death penalty — 71% of global executions are held there — but now would have been a good place to start. China could have gained the moral high ground by showing mercy to this man and made many more friends in the international community but they got down on the British government's level and now a man, a political pawn, lies dead.
To those who say they couldn't care less that a drug smuggler has been executed, let's hear it from John Donne :
No Man is an island entire of itself; every man is a part of the whole continent. Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
It's forgetting that that is leading us into some dark places.
This is what I'm talking about. Sections of the British media practically declare war on China
Blood and Treasure has this take
Michael White in The Guardian on Why denouncing China is hypocritical A tip of the Miaow chapeau to Harpymarx
UPDATE: 30th Dec 2009 This is one situation where I am pleased to say I was wrong. The eruption of sinophobia at The Independent seems to be at an end with the publication of a balanced leader article that lets no-one off the hook: What this execution doesn't say about China and Britain
... it would have been an extraordinary gesture of humanity or diplomatic goodwill had the Chinese authorities overruled the court to commute the sentence. That they permitted two of Shaikh's cousins to pay a farewell visit was itself unusual and suggested that Beijing might not be completely deaf to the pleas from many miles away.
UPDATE: Talking of barbarism, while the media has been feeding us diversionary hysteria over Shaikh's execution — to which I remain opposed — here's how Western justice treats the massacre of Iraqi civilians by Blackwater operatives. I do wonder where the front page hysteria was on this occasion.