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All the world will be your enemy, Prince of a Thousand enemies. And when they catch you, they will kill you.
December 31, 2009 4:49 PM   Subscribe

This past Tuesday, China executed Briton Akmal Shaikh for heroin smuggling, the first foreigner to be executed in China since Italian Antonio Riva was put to death in 1951. Shaikh's family, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and U.N. officials all had asked for clemency based on the fact the 53-year old, father-of-three Shaikh was a mentally ill person who believed he was a pop star on a mission for world peace and had been duped into being an unwitting drug mule. Nonetheless, regardless of international outcry, Shaikh was put to death. The outcry continues. A music video has been created for Shaikh's music single, Come Little Rabbit.
posted by humannaire (65 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Kind of a catchy little ditty.
posted by delmoi at 4:56 PM on December 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


Why do we allow China to behave like this? Are we worried about offending their delicate cultural sensibilities? Are we concerned that we'll have to pay a few bucks more for coffeemakers? It's about time that we started standing up for what we believe in. All-too-often, these situations are ignored for political convenience. But if we don't stand up for our beliefs, then we're no better.
posted by pantsonfire at 5:35 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Allow China to behave like this? I'm not sure what other options are available. I don't see how the UK could compel China to let him go.
posted by clockworkjoe at 5:38 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Metafilter could invade China. I'm sure we will be welcomed as liberators with roses.
posted by b1tr0t at 5:39 PM on December 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


China's a fucking nightmare from any angle you look at it. It continues to bother me how easily and casually the rest of the world gives them a pass on their shit, just because they've got the swinging dick economic power to inspire fear.

They'll ultimately be the doom of us all, if the Americans don't get there first. But, then, I live right next door to the Hive, so perhaps I'm more alarmist than I might otherwise be.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:41 PM on December 31, 2009


Questions I had about this case:

I wonder how the severe penalty really affects drug use in China.

Are people who respect diversity obligated to respect China's laws and their death penalty ? (not snark, serious)

Was he really mentally ill? Does china have any laws against executing the mentally ill?
posted by esereth at 5:43 PM on December 31, 2009


They could have done more. Certainly the UK government has some leverage over China. They chose not to use it.
posted by pantsonfire at 5:44 PM on December 31, 2009


The United States or Britain has absolutely no leverage on how China behaves. They will do what they will regardless of how anyone on the outside thinks.They do not see the agreement or disagreement of any other state as being relevant. No pressure can be brought to bear.
posted by scottymac at 5:48 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]




Be that right or wrong in any of our personal value systems.
posted by scottymac at 5:49 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


I kind of like the song, too. Then again, one of my favorite songs is the 'Mountain Dew Song' by Daniel Johnston.
posted by HopperFan at 5:53 PM on December 31, 2009


China's a fucking nightmare from any angle you look at it. It continues to bother me how easily and casually the rest of the world gives them a pass on their shit, just because they've got the swinging dick economic power to inspire fear.

China has 1.3 billion people and executes 3,500 a year. or about 1 for every 371,500.

Texas has 24 million people, and has executed 53 so far this year, or about 1 for every 453,000.

China has 1.6 million people in prison, or 1 out of 812.

Texas has has 162,003 people in prison, or 1 out of 148.
posted by delmoi at 6:01 PM on December 31, 2009 [32 favorites]


and of course many mentally retarded people have been executed in the U.S. as well.
posted by delmoi at 6:02 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Setting aside arguments about the death penalty (I'm opposed) since it's on the books in China and used regularly, the two things which stand out about this case for me are the way it further exposes inadequacies in a Chinese judicial system that still lacks habeas corpus rights and what I can only assume is some calculated theatre in the British diplomatic response.

The first point is really no news at all. Have read Chinese commentary pointing out that Shaikh, who arrived in China penniless but carrying 4 kilos of smack when you can be executed for 50 grammes, had counsel appointed for him by the courts who continually advised him to request a mental health assessment but Shaikh refused. Apparently that's how it should work in China, which is obviously inadequate but hardly unique to this case (for example, police killer Yang Jia was moved swiftly from trial to the execution grounds despite massive public sympathy and similarly obvious doubts about his mental health). Apparently there was a case of a foreigner who killed his Chinese wife about ten years ago but had a death sentence commuted when his lawyers provided evidence he was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. Chinese authorities argue that none of the material provided by British diplomats or Reprieve amounted to an actual diagnosis or evidence of a family history of mental ill-health, hence again the courts set it aside. From all I read, Shaikh was fairly obviously not mentally well and it is a criminal failure that he has been executed under these circumstances, but it was nothing exceptional in the China context. Which brings us to a point of pedantry:
the first foreigner to be executed in China since Italian Antonio Riva was put to death in 1961
This isn't true - a Japanese man was executed for drug-smuggling in April and some Burmese traffickers suffered a similar fate back in the 1990s. There's four more recently arrested potentially facing the death penalty too.

On the second point, the UK response, I'm left feeling the outcry is entirely for domestic consumption. We have an experienced diplomatic corps, well used to dealing with China, who know full well that the type of condemnation they have engaged in in the final days running up to Shaikh's judicial murder and subsequent could only make the Chinese side more entrenched. The quiet diplomacy and medical representations that might have actually affected the outcome should have happened a year or more ago and I'd be interested to know why it didn't - 27 meetings apparently but why never anything that met the criteria demanded? Not saying it's not possible that decent evidence was given and ignored, but the impression is that we let the poor man down when it counted yet now that it's happened a bit of a fuss is being made for appearances knowing full well that China actually doesn't want to fall out over this (commentary after some initial trenchant language has been quite mild and has emphasised the value of our bilateral ties) and the actually relatively healthy UK-China relationship will be back to normal in short order once the UK drops this, as it will.
posted by Abiezer at 6:02 PM on December 31, 2009 [8 favorites]


why do we allow China to behave like this?

Because imposing our will on the Middle East has worked so well for us...

Seriously, I am aghast that this happened. The mentally ill consistently get screwed over and it's sad to see it happen again. However, other than expressing some outrage, we should keep our nose out of it...

China has a rapidly growing middle class that is slowly demanding *and receiving* more personal rights. As that middle class grows, the government has no choice but to curb rights abuses. The balance of power is shifting in China and the last thing we should do is meddle.

If you want to see the glorious results of overnight change, look at how well the Soviet Union took to capitalism.

Tyranny can happen overnight; freedom sadly takes decades.
posted by bpm140 at 6:15 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I have to wonder about this. Obviously, I'm opposed to executing people for drugs. But since when is being bipolar a good excuse for a capital crime?

The Reprieve video is kind of weird too. It's like they're making fun of him, and then trying to make the claim that because he is a bad song writer he couldn't be a criminal?

If the west really thinks these sentences are excessive, they should be lobbying these countries to reduce their drug trafficking sentences, rather then picking random cases with sympathetic defendants and complaining about them.
posted by delmoi at 6:21 PM on December 31, 2009


I like how every thread becomes an AMERICA IS BAD thread.

Executing mentally ill people who kill people != executing mentally ill drug runners.
posted by Allan Gordon at 6:44 PM on December 31, 2009 [4 favorites]


I'm against drug laws in general. I am against capital punishment especially in cases where the criminal did not take a life. I think China's criminal justice system is very, very seriously lacking.

That said, I find it interesting that people think "we should do something" about this case as it offends our sense of justice (and it does offend mine). There's a lot of bad things we should try to do something about. The entire war in Iraq - the wholesale brutal murder of countless civilians, the invasion and destruction of a country, all in the name of a war based on lies. I'm talking about Britons as much as Americans - the invaders who rampage across the globe sowing destruction. China is no saint (Tibet etc., etc., etc.), but if one were to devote limited energy to fighting evil and injustice, I'd think we'd start with the real biggies - and there are plenty of those here in the West. China - and this case, regrettable as it is (very), is many orders of magnitude less of a problem than what is perpetrated on a daily basis in the West. Yet, it's easier perhaps to attack and "do something about" problems caused by strangers and foreigners than the much greater problems our own countries are responsible for.

These draconian drug laws exist not just in China - but in Thailand, Malaysia and dozens of other countries in Asia and elsewhere.
posted by VikingSword at 6:47 PM on December 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


But, then, I live right next door to the Hive, so perhaps I'm more alarmist than I might otherwise be.

I live at hive's edge, hoping like Hell that China doesn't dissolve the border with Hong Kong anytime before 2047. The last thing the Big Lychee needs is to become just another mainland city.
posted by bwg at 6:48 PM on December 31, 2009


Oops, posted too soon. I meant to add, that I find it particularly interesting that this outcry arose because a Western (British) citizen was a victim here. Chinese people are unfairly executed all the time in China, and the outcry is not the same. They are people too - just as are the Westerners. There's a hint of cultural arrogance here. Not to mention the daily killings of foreigners we are responsible for in various war theaters.
posted by VikingSword at 6:52 PM on December 31, 2009


I read an article the other day that had a Chinese official stating that (paraphrasing) they are tough on drug traffickers because of "the sting of history" or something like that, referring to the Opium Wars and the fact that the British Empire was once the world's largest dope dealer. I don't condone the death penalty and I'm especially not into a government sending a message to another government by putting someone to death, but from their perspective, they had a reason to be hardasses about this.
posted by DecemberBoy at 6:52 PM on December 31, 2009


I like how every thread becomes an AMERICA IS BAD thread.

I like how Americans pointing out that those in glass houses shouldn't throw rocks equals accusations of America bashing.
posted by nudar at 6:53 PM on December 31, 2009 [8 favorites]


Was he really mentally ill?

This link (attached to the line "mentally ill person" in the FPP) makes a strong case for Shaikh indeed having been both an innocent and mentally ill.
posted by humannaire at 6:53 PM on December 31, 2009


We can all complain but honestly this isn't going to change any of our buying habits. Christ, they already killed our pets, poisoned our children, and polluted our homes. get used to it serfs.
posted by dibblda at 6:54 PM on December 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


Fuck the subtlety angle, they're a bunch of blood thirsty murdering shitkickers, mental illness or not.
posted by biffa at 6:54 PM on December 31, 2009


Mail Online: "The relatives of the victim may well be offered the bullet that killed their loved one, and then charged the 30p it cost. They will be also refused access to the corpse. The gruesome explanation for this is that many execution victims have their organs 'harvested' by hospital staff on the orders of police and judges supervising the executions."
posted by eccnineten at 7:08 PM on December 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


I like how every thread becomes an AMERICA IS BAD thread.
Well, if people are going to argue that China is blight on the world, then it's fair to compare it to its 'partner in crime'.
Executing mentally ill people who kill people != executing mentally ill drug runners.
Is executing mentally ill murderers appropriate? I'm not in favor of executing drug runners, but I don't see western powers lobbying against these laws in general. Why not?
posted by delmoi at 7:08 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


That cinches it. I'm never going to China (or Texas).
posted by cjorgensen at 7:37 PM on December 31, 2009


We can all complain but honestly this isn't going to change any of our buying habits. Christ, they already killed our pets, poisoned our children, and polluted our homes. get used to it serfs.

They are already the world's second largest economy, having recently overtaken Japan. They will likely overtake the United States in a couple years. Few are in a position to tell China to do anything. Get used to it serfs, indeed.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:47 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Of course, there was another notable case this year where the defendant in a murder trial was found not guilty on the grounds of her mental state, that of Deng Yujiao. The public outcry over that pretty definitely affected the outcome, which among other things serves as a reminder that the judiciary are still firmly under political control.
That's probably no more true than in Urumqi where Shaikh was tried and executed - this is the court system that's been handing down all those death penalties after the inter-communal riots. But my impression is that politics domestic or international played a fairly minimal part in this. Caveats to that are that I would imagine any case involving a foreigner would elicit a political calculation, but my feeling is pretty much that the process ended in Shaikh's execution mainly because the view was he was guilty as charged. Also that when clemency pleas were made, one major consideration would have been the desire not to be seen to be soft of foreigners where if it was a Chinese citizen things may have proceeded fairly summarily - I would think that would have been the most significant political factor under consideration, rather than the diplomatic angle with the UK.
posted by Abiezer at 9:07 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oops, 'not guilty' is wrong for Deng Yujiao - should have said 'sentenced leniently'.
posted by Abiezer at 9:12 PM on December 31, 2009


Why do we allow China to behave like this?

The US (I'm assuming you are from the States) executes folks living with cognitive disabilities. The US also tortures prisoners. Why do we allow the US to behave like this?
posted by KokuRyu at 9:18 PM on December 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


China has 1.3 billion people and executes 3,500 a year. or about 1 for every 371,500.

Texas has 24 million people, and has executed 53 so far this year, or about 1 for every 453,000.

China has 1.6 million people in prison, or 1 out of 812.

Texas has has 162,003 people in prison, or 1 out of 148.


What? I don't give a rat's ass how many people China keeps in prison, or how many they execute. That's the least of the reasons they're a fucking nighmare.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:29 PM on December 31, 2009


I read that Korea issued a "yellow dust" alert. Pretty early this year...
posted by KokuRyu at 9:30 PM on December 31, 2009


death penalty for drug trafficking - Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand (where every so often the Australian Premier begs for some hippie chick to be pardoned), Indonesia
posted by infini at 9:46 PM on December 31, 2009


U.S. policy sets an extremely bad example for worldwide drug crime penalties. China surely has their own power trip reasons for executing drug smugglers, but reform might gain traction in places like Thailand if the U.S. legalized & regulated recreational drugs.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:41 PM on December 31, 2009


It's hard to imagine a policy as comprehensive in its failure, as overwhelmingly counterproductive, as the war on drugs. Tom Feiling has the statistics. In the last 35 years, the US has spent $500bn attempting to reduce the availability and purity, and increase the price, of illicit drugs. Yet cocaine purity is up, the drug is as available as it ever was and its price dropped 50% in the decade up to 2003. Cocaine, formerly the preserve of the super-rich, has become democratised. The result has been an explosion in demand and a corresponding explosion in supply. Nothing, it seems, can stop the flow.
[...]
The book ends with a warning. "Unless there is a fundamental reassessment of the problem and a willingness to consider hard solutions, prohibition can only make for bigger problems in the future." He's absolutely right there.
posted by infini at 10:45 PM on December 31, 2009


ah, all of the above should be italicized or in quotes
posted by infini at 10:45 PM on December 31, 2009


Why do we allow China to behave like this? Are we worried about offending their delicate cultural sensibilities?

Are you going to do something concrete about it? If not, stop being a clown and take that rolled up sock out of your pants. You're not fooling anyone.
posted by c13 at 10:48 PM on December 31, 2009


I am against the death penalty. I am frequently dismayed at the pass that China gets from foreign powers. That being said, I can't imagine how twisted one's thinking, or how twisted the circumstances, must have been to find oneself, a husband and father, in possession of 4 kilos of heroin in Communist China.
posted by spacely_sprocket at 11:01 PM on December 31, 2009


I wonder how the severe penalty really affects drug use in China.

Just about as much as the severe penalties affect drug use in America-- AKA, not very much. Those who would be deterred by fear of negative consequences, are. Those who are capable of thinking much about the future are not effectively deterred by penalties that require them to do so.

This means that the mentally ill are not going to do so well-- and at least 50% of drug addicts suffer an additional mental illness. The young are also not especially good at considering the consequences of their actions-- around the world, young people do profoundly stupid things that those same people can't believe that they ever did once they become adults.

That's why this is an absurd, unjust policy: it penalizes people who can't really help themselves and deters people who wouldn't do it even if the penalty was just social stigma. The few extra people that might be deterred can be deterred just as easily through less brutal means that don't kill people. Even from a strictly utilitarian point of view, there are cheaper, more effective ways to fight drug misuse.

And, of course, this is morally abhorrent: killing someone for committing a crime that they don't understand and that requires the consent of the "victims" is ridiculous.
posted by Maias at 11:03 PM on December 31, 2009


Why do we allow China to behave like this?

Because we can't do anything about it? What are you going to do, argue for a trade embargo whenever filthy yellow foreigners are uppity about executing Westerners? Good luck with that, we'll see whose economy collapses first.

Hint: I doubt it'll be the country the West has outsourced its manufacturing base to and is training scientists and engineers while the US train MBAs and lawyers.

But if we don't stand up for our beliefs, then we're no better.

You're in the States, matey. Maybe you should stop your country's appalling record of butchering the innocent and mentally deficient in order to look "tough on crime" before you worry about the Yellow Peril.
posted by rodgerd at 11:20 PM on December 31, 2009 [3 favorites]


Wait, he was arrested in 2007 and convicted in 2008? There was plenty of time for the UK authorities to do more than spark off an international outcry upon his death just because 'it's China omg'. China is hardly the only country to execute people for drug trafficking.
posted by Xany at 11:27 PM on December 31, 2009


Questions I had about this case:

I wonder how the severe penalty really affects drug use in China.


Drugs are relatively easy to find in China. Hash can usually be procured from Uighar dealers, who presumably have easy access to the drug because of the long chinese border with central Asian hash producing centers. Ketamine and Meth are available in a majority of the dance clubs and a large percentage of Karaoke establishments, (the availability of drugs is heavily correlated with the presence of Japanese style Hostesses). Coke is available but expensive in the larger cities. Heroin I don't know much about, but I would suspect it would be easy to find seeing as how close china is to Afghanistan and the golden triangle. It does seem like heroin is considered a more low class drug and has higher penalties than other drugs. I have heard that this is because of a prejudice against opiates that derives from the Opium Wars.

Often drug use in China is more open than it is in the United States. It is not unusual to see someone rolling a joint in a bar or cutting lines of Ketamine in the middle of a dance club. I suspect that this is either because the police are in the pocket of organized crime, or that the police themselves are running the drug business. Overall the system seems to work pretty well since there is very little violence associated with drug crime in China. I would guess that people who are executed for drug crimes are those that failed to pay bribes or scape goats being offered up to Beijing from the provinces.
posted by afu at 11:36 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


There was (still is, I presume) a massive heroin problem in the Liangshan AP just south of where I used to work; combination of being on the drug smuggling route out of Burma and the problems of the marginalisation Yi people in 'New China'.
posted by Abiezer at 11:47 PM on December 31, 2009


I like how Americans pointing out that those in glass houses shouldn't throw rocks equals accusations of America bashing.
posted by nudar at 6:53 PM on December 31


Meh, to me it doesn't seem to be so much about so-called "America bashing" as it is about the "hey, a post about an event/wrongdoing/tragedy in another country, let's talk about America" sort of thing.
posted by the other side at 12:14 AM on January 1, 2010


Why do we allow China to behave like this? Are we worried about offending their delicate cultural sensibilities? Are we concerned that we'll have to pay a few bucks more for coffeemakers? It's about time that we started standing up for what we believe in. All-too-often, these situations are ignored for political convenience. But if we don't stand up for our beliefs, then we're no better.
For help answering this question, you might do well to ask yourself: when you say "we", do you mean--

1. We, the non-Chinese?
2. We, the readers of Metafilter?
3. We, the participants in some kind of giant political movement that is somehow able to change the behaviour of China's government, and can achieve this from outside China?
4. We, the members of Tom Clancy's Rogue Recon Delta Ghost Squadron?
posted by stammer at 1:12 AM on January 1, 2010 [11 favorites]


Heroin I don't know much about, but I would suspect it would be easy to find seeing as how close china is to Afghanistan and the golden triangle.

It's been the major drug of choice in Hong Kong for the last 50 years or so. Apparently, Hong Kong's methadone treatment services were traditionally among some of the most enlightened in the world, due to having to compete with widespread availability of low cost, high grade heroin.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:39 AM on January 1, 2010


5. We, the people... of course
posted by infini at 1:53 AM on January 1, 2010


I like how every thread becomes an AMERICA IS BAD thread.

Metafilter: Love it or leave it.
posted by digsrus at 2:13 AM on January 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


As DecemberBoy points out up thread the history of the Opium War no doubt colours perceptions in China and would make it very difficult for British diplomats to take any convincing high ground on this; hey guys we used to use gunships to force you to buy opium, now about our citizen that was bringing kilos of the stuff in.

I'm not using the above history to justify China's response here but I've been amazed how few reports/commentary in the media have not even mentioned the history in passing.
posted by Gratishades at 6:04 AM on January 1, 2010


Why do we allow China to behave like this?

Allow? What makes you think this isn't exactly how the U.S. wants them to behave?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:15 AM on January 1, 2010


I'm not using the above history to justify China's response here but I've been amazed how few reports/commentary in the media have not even mentioned the history in passing.
posted by Gratishades


too many events, responses or choices/decisions being made by longer headed nations or otherwise are considered only in static frames of reference with little or no historic perspective or understanding how or why these things came to be so
posted by infini at 7:33 AM on January 1, 2010


pantsonfire

Bypassing the question of who exactly "we" are (Britain? The West? NATO?), what would you propose be done to stop China from engaging in activity you disapprove of?

An embargo against China would likely be economic suicide, at least for the United States, considering how much trade we do with them and how much of our debt they own.

An invasion against a nation of 1.5 billion people with one of the largest and most well-funded militaries in the world is laughable.

Political moves such as cutting off diplomatic relations are pretty much symbolic and are hardly a deterrent.
posted by Target Practice at 8:52 AM on January 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wonder how the severe penalty really affects drug use in China.

Just about as much as the severe penalties affect drug use in America-- AKA, not very much.


A second data point on this. While I have no idea about trafficking, hard drugs, or domestic consumption, I can say with some certainty that expats in China smoke about as much weed as anywhere else on the planet, and do so with relative impunity (outside even, which was suprising.)

The Chinese seem to have an established policing policy which works like this: Ignore most all infractions- blatant or not- until some high powered official wishes to make a point. Then, enact swift, vengeful and highly-publicized retribution to make said point. Rinse and repeat. The same national pattern we saw play out in the tainted milk scandal (ignore blatant corruption for a long time, then suddenly decry the problem and execute) , reguarly occurs at the local levels as well.
posted by HabeasCorpus at 9:36 AM on January 1, 2010


Bypassing the question of who exactly "we" are (Britain? The West? NATO?), what would you propose be done to stop China from engaging in activity you disapprove of?

We could always bomb their embassy in Belgrade. Again.
posted by MikeMc at 9:47 AM on January 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Agree about the opium war thing. Instead of wagging a disapproving finger the UK might have had more diplomatic success if they had asked to repurchase the guy's life by building a school or some other reciprocal arrangement.

A second data point on this. While I have no idea about trafficking, hard drugs, or domestic consumption, I can say with some certainty that expats in China smoke about as much weed as anywhere else on the planet, and do so with relative impunity (outside even, which was suprising.)

It' a weird thing - it's technically illegal, but on the other hand it was sold openly as a medicinal herb at farmer's markets as recently as a decade ago, and was cited as a medicinal plant in the famous Barefoot Doctor's manual. I imagine it's likely to be rehabilitated via some Chinese equivalent of the 'medical marijuana' movement. Meantime, I blame the US and Europe for using their economic clout to create this global drug prohibition BS to begin with.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:16 PM on January 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I went on a guided trip in Inner Mongolia (the part of Mongolia that's in Chinese territory) and we visited a clothing factory for some reason. We had lunch in the courtyard and observed a cannabis plant which was growing out in the open. It was probably twelve feet tall and in full budding phase. Nobody seemed to notice or care about this mature cannabis plant bristling with buds, or the fact that we were giggling and taking pictures with it.
posted by mullingitover at 1:33 PM on January 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Antonio Riva was executed in 1951, not 1961
posted by mr dodo at 3:16 PM on January 1, 2010


Fixed the date in the post!
posted by jessamyn at 4:05 PM on January 1, 2010


I suspect that this is either because the police are in the pocket of organized crime, or that the police themselves are running the drug business.

China is catching up to the West.
posted by telstar at 7:15 PM on January 1, 2010


I know expats who as recently as this fall went on trips to the exurbs of Beijing to gather the skunk growing by the side of the road in bags. This is the friggin' capital, these people lug plastic bags full of the stuff onto buses back into the city, and it's not like the locals are ignorant of what the stuff is.

They are not, ever, serious about enforcement. China does these things to show that they can, that's it. The Nigerians trolling around Sanlitun every night, the selfsame ones that have been there for going on 10 years, carry and sell shittons of the stuff, and that right in front of the embassy district's police station. They sell it openly to anyone who doesn't look Asian, and willingly to Asians if you ask. They did a raid and deported some, once, last year at the Olympics, and they were right back there the next week. IF they were serious about getting tough on foreigners bringing drugs into China, well, there you go. These guys are in every city with a sizable expat population I've visited in China. Including Urumqi!

Not that I think they should start rounding them up and injecting them, but there's your low-hanging fruit, if sticking it to the foreign drug trade is what you're about.

So, this, the crazy man on the plane? Calculated. He couldn't fight back. He couldn't stage any kind of resistance that wouldn't be tainted by his history of mental illness. He couldn't make himself a martyr. The borders are as porous as ever, the drugs as copious as ever. The police definitely aren't ignorant of what goes on, what with the 800,000-strong neighborhood watch committees keeping their eyes on things. The thing is though, if you arrest me, I'll have my embassy on you, my twitter, my blog. I know lawyers and more lawyers. Same with the tourists, the college kids, the high school students with highly-paid parents in the expat enclaves. These are demographics who can and do raise a stink and cost China their all-important whuffie. Crazy man on the plane is crazy. Everybody already knows China unfairly executes people, but the only people who don't concede them the temporary right to do that in the name of getting along are people without any real power anyway, so why not? The furriners get some scare in 'em, the locals cheer on the government fighting for justice, and the domestic storm blows over.

This is the last we'll ever hear of it, except in blog comments by "China bashers" who will then get shouted down on the internet for being bigoted hatemongers. They're the only ones with attention spans long enough to remember that a very sick 53-year old father and brother was killed in China 5 days ago, and they'll drag it out time and again only to mention that next time it might be us, or that the Chinese will do this to our economy, or that the Commies are heartless assholes. None of which is true in the way they mean it.

That's not the elegy he deserves. He was a real-life Don Quixote, whose story could have been so much different had anyone had the intelligence to know what to do with his madness. This could have been an epic drug bust, this could have been the return in triumph of a pop star who saved the world to his family, who could begin healing him. He made and kept friends. He had a vision, and was stuck in a world full of people without one. That's his tragedy, and ours. It didn't have to be this way.
posted by saysthis at 11:56 PM on January 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


Why do we allow China to behave like this?

Because they pay your rent.
posted by pompomtom at 4:51 AM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've dealt with a lot of bipolar people. Bipolar disorder is not schizophrenia. Whatever was ticking in his head, he had to have known what he was carrying and where he was going. My own experience with bipolar people would lead me to think he knew exactly what he was doing but had completely shut off the "yeah, but..." part of his brain that controls the impulse to do stupid things. A couple thousand dollars to smuggle a couple kilos would seem to a homeless bipolar what maxed-out credit cards buying the whole bar drinks was for my brother-in-law: a really good idea at the time.

Stravos - I used to value your insight. You're just shrill now. I can't tell you how many of my coworkers have left your frigid wonderland to live in our "nightmare" - including a few Koreans. Next you'll be talking about not consuming anything that comes from China - not even tea... wait, you already did that.

I think the saying about "the converts are more Catholic than the Pope" might apply for foreigners gone native too. Break out of the cocoon thinking, take it for what it is: common Asian sibling rivalry.

Saythis: thanks for the thoughtful commentary, but I disagree. Half the little Kodak portrait/printing shops I've been to have some pot-leaf styled design as a prop. They have no idea what it is. There's a giant rules and expectations sign in my college for the students with pot leafs in the background. They didn't believe me when I told them what it was.

It's a land of paradoxes. People can drive down the wrong side of the street past a cop but then a bus driver will refuse to open the door at a traffic light even if there's no other traffic. What you see a "don't care" attitude with law enforcement, I see five different agencies with different authorities that can't even shut down the street food vendors that come out every night in my neighborhood. Sometimes they can launch a crackdown and shove things underground, like they did with prostitution this year in Shenzhen, but it seems like it takes an enormous amount of beaurocratic coordination, which means political will, to stamp out problems that are obvious on the street.

Your logic is flawed when you assume that any country, ANY country, would simply let a smuggler off the hook coming through the airport with kilos of heroine because there's sloppy enforcement somewhere else.
posted by trinarian at 6:56 AM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Roland Soong translated an article yesterday that gives a bit more insight on why the Akmal Shaikh wasn't considered to be mentally unifit in the eyes of the Chinese court:

Why Akmal Shaikh Was Not Pronounced Mentally Unfit (original article)

I don't actually think this is as political as the case of not wanting to seem soft on foreigners but more of a rigid application of the letter of the law but without the due process and transparency that most of us would expect from a Western court.

I don't know if China has its equivalent of case law but I get the impression that the Chinese court is a lot more keen to not establish rulings that may become precedence in causing unintended or surprise consequences in latter cases.
posted by tksh at 10:25 AM on January 3, 2010


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