Chinese authorities confirmed today that 53-year-old British citizen Akmal Shaikh was executed by lethal injection in Xinjiang, despite pleas for clemency from Shaikh’s family, the British government and the international community. Shaikh, who his family claims suffered from bipolar disorder, was arrested in Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang, in September 2007 for drug possession. In a half-hour session last year, a court convicted Shaikh for attempting to smuggle drugs into China, an offense punishable by death. His family and campaigners maintain that Shaikh was duped by a criminal gang to carry the drugs.
Shaikh’s Chinese lawyer says his requests to meet his client were turned down by the court and the detention center. Furthermore, Chinese authorities disregarded domestic laws, which mitigate a sentence when a suspect is mentally ill. China’s highest court allegedly never assessed his mental state.
What made it possible for Beijing to ignore international calls for clemency is that it still believes that it can do what it wants and get away with it. In other words, China suffers from single child syndrome. Part of the reason behind this is China’s renewed sense of importance in world affairs as it rises economically. Nationalist is also to blame, as is Beijing’s emphasis on its right to act as it wishes domestically and opposition to foreign involvement in its internal affairs.
The problem with this particular case — and there are many others — however, is that it involves a foreign citizen, in this case a passport holder from China’s third-biggest trade partner in Europe, Britain. China’s role in the failure of the climate talks in Copenhagen earlier this month, which will have global repercussions in terms of countries’ commitment to lower carbon dioxide emissions, is another example. A responsible global stakeholder cannot behave as if others didn’t exist, especially when its actions have repercussions beyond its borders. Why China chooses to do this is simple: No one has raised the important issues of human rights, international law, freedom of expression and environmental protection seriously enough with Chinese authorities for them to take the matter seriously. As long as the international community continues to look the other way when Beijing transgresses for the sake of business relations and “strategic ties,” China will continue to throw dissidents in jail, kill Tibetans and Uighurs, claim special developing country privileges on the environment, threaten Taiwan, and make a mockery of trials involving citizens from other countries, such as Shaikh, or Canada Huseyin Celil.
Not only China, but the entire international community is to blame for Mr. Shaikh’s execution today. Through our silence, we allowed Beijing to get away with it. As long as it knows that there will be no serious repercussions for its actions, it will continue to do this.
What’s needed is a slap that has a sting to it, something like the embargoes that were struck on China after the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989. Words alone, or the diplomatic politeness that the Gordon Brown administration exercised after hearing of the execution, fall far short of the remedy that must be administered to Beijing.
China has turned arrogant. It needs to be taught a lesson.