UK-China ties under strain

Britons execution upsets officials


Akmal Shaikh (53) who was said to be suffering from bipolar disorder was executed on Tuesday although UK officials said they remained hopeful of a reprieve until the final week.

There were also reports of ministerial lobbying till the time Shaikh was executed by lethal injection at northwestern Xinjiang Ugyur Autonomous Region, after approval from China’s Supreme People’s Court (SPC).
Although wholesale change of direction in bilateral ties with China is ruled out, senior British government officials admit to have been shaken by the turn of events.
“Changing our China strategy into one of non-engagement or isolationism is neither credible nor desirable and would be counterproductive,” an official said on condition of anonymity.

As a sequel, a proposed visit to China by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, pencilled in for January or February, has been delayed until after the general election.
Officials, however, said the decision was taken “weeks ago” and was unrelated to Tuesday’s events. But cancellation of the official visit is almost certain now, they said.
Chinese ambassador to UK,  Fu Ying, was also summoned on Tuesday by junior foreign minister Ivan Lewis as a last minute attempt to save Shaikh. The minister later described the talks with the Chinese diplomat as “difficult”.

“I made clear that the execution of Shaikh was totally unacceptable and that China had failed in its basic human rights responsibilities,” Lewis said told Sky News television.
Even Brown was said to have been “appalled and disappointed” by China’s decision of refusing to show any leniency to Shaikh.

Irrevocable decision
Only 48 hours before the scheduled execution did it become clear that Chinese Government had made an irrevocable decision not to involve itself.
“In the end their calculation was very simple. Chinese public opinion has a very clear view on drug trafficking and a very strong sense that no foreigner should be treated differently,” an official said.

Shaikh, a father-of-five was arrested two years ago in September at Urumqi in China with four kilograms of heroin. However, his supporters claim that he was duped by some criminal gang into carrying the drugs.
He is the first EU national to be executed in China in 50 years. He had denied any wrongdoing and his family said he was mentally ill.

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