Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Justice For China

It is sad but inevitable that this morning we woke to the news that China has treated one of our own the way it treats its own people. Akhmal Shaikh, a man who was mentally ill and unbalanced, was duped into carrying a huge amount of heroin into the country. Just the amounts involved would give any normal system of justice pause for thought. He was carrying 8.8 pounds of the drug. Who in their right mind would do such a thing into any country, but let alone China?

Mr Shaikh was given a half hour trial last year and then sentenced. The authorities did not bother investigating his mental health first, they just dispensed what they call justice and that was that. Their response to criticism this morning is typical. 'Nobody has the right to speak ill of China's judicial sovereignty,' they say. And then come the scarcely veiled threats: 'We urge the British side to mend its errors and avoid damaging China-British relations.'

We all know what that means. But why do we care? because of the size of the Chinese economy? It has become that size thanks to us. We could reduce it to where it was by simply switching trade elsewhere. Why for instance do we favour Chinese trade over Indian? India is just as populous, just as in need of our investment. Yet India, for all of its problems and faults is a functioning and vibrant democracy. Could it be that we favour trade with an autocracy because it is cheaper and easier and thus more profitable? It is another example of the Chinese using our own hypocrisy against us.

When are western governments going to wake up with regard to this appalling regime and start treating them with the contempt they deserve? Engagement and trade is not working. It is actually making matters worse, and the Chinese government more confident and arrogant. We have it in our power to bring them to heel, to hit them where it hurts. Yet we still do not do so.
It is already the second largest economy on the planet and growing exponentially. It is doing so thanks to its low costs, but also because it shamelessly holds down the value of its own currency to give it an even greater competitive advantage. And yet our politicians watch and say nothing, terrified that they might get left behind in the great rush to trade with an evil superpower in the making.

If we had had the opportunity to stop the Soviet Union in its tracks before it became the monster of the late twentieth century would we have taken that chance? Well we have it again now. China can and should be a major world power and a driver of the world economy. But not under its present regime. Why do we trade and do business with such regimes? Trade is a hugely powerful diplomatic weapon and yet we squander it for our own selfish but short term ends. If we set up a free trade association which all nations were free to join so long as they were democratic and respected human rights it would be a greater force for good than all of the sanctions and diplomatic protests that have ever been issued. It would be so simple to do and would reward and encourage good, fair and accountable governance around the world.

The last couple of weeks, at Copenhagen and now with this unjustifiable execution of an ill man, have shown once again what kind of regime we are trading with and enriching whilst beggaring ourselves and more deserving nations. More than that, China frustrates our attempts to rein in other nations too, nations which are a threat to peace and stability for the whole world. China is laughing at our weakness and short termism. If only politicians would show some real leadership and bravery we could free billions of people and make the world a better and safer place at a stroke.

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