China sentences Korean smuggler to death

By Daniele Pestilli on May 25, 2012
Image: Anti-drug poster in China. By: dcmaster

A senior official at Seoul's foreign ministry said a South Korean national was sentenced to death in China today for drug trafficking.

This is the third case of capital punishment for drug crimes by Koreans in China: the first was executed in 2001, whereas the second was granted suspension according to The Korea Herald.

According to Yonhap News, the 53-year-old only identified by his surname Jang, smuggled 11.9 kg (26.2 lbs) of methamphetamine into China through the port city of Qingdao. The drug is used for recreational purposes for its euphoric and stimulant properties. Qingdao, in the eastern Shangong province, is located 611 km (380 mi) south-west of Seoul and is thus easily accessible to Koreans by sea.

Although two convicts received “suspended death penalties,” China's anti-drug laws are notoriously draconian: one of Jang's accomplices was given a 15-year jail term, and the other is sentenced to life in prison, writes The Korea Herald. About 100 other Korean nationals are currently being held for drug charges and are soon to face trial.

Qingdao to Seoul Map
Qingdao and Seoul

The Dui Hua foundation, a nonprofit humanitarian organization that seeks clemency through the promotion of human rights in China, writes that at present, 55 offenses in China's Criminal Law are punishable by death. There were 13 more as of February 2011. The foundation claims that although the exact number of people executed in China is classified as a state secret, Professor Liu Renwen told an audience in Suzhou that, following the Supreme People’s Court's death-penalty review, the executions have dropped by approximately 50% since 2007. Given past reports by international human rights organizations, Dui Hua estimates the current figure to be 4,000 death-sentences per year.

By contrast, the U.S. saw 43 executions in 2011 and 18 in 2012, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The largest number of people sentenced to death row in the United States was in 1999, when 98 people received a death sentence. In total, there have been 1,295 executions since 1976.

A return to historic values?

In recent weeks there has been a surge of anti-foreign sentiment plaguing China’s Twitter-like service, Weibo, as well as the media. A video that went viral online of a British male attempting to rape a girl in Beijing as well as that of a young Russian putting his feet on the backrest of a seat on a Chinese train have caused a lot of anger. Many Chinese netizens are claiming China should rid itself of this “foreign trash.” A blog entry on the Wall Street Journal describes Chinese TV personality Yang Rui’s recent attack on “foreign trash,” such as “that foreign bitch,” journalist Melissa Chan of Al-Jazeera who was denied a visa renewal in China for having done her job all too well.

All this, coupled with today's death sentence of Mr. Jang for drug trafficking makes us wonder whether China has returned to Qing Dynasty values: during that period, popular frustration against foreigners, opium traders, economic manipulation and religious missionaries boiled to the surface in the 1898 Boxer Rebellion. The Boxers - so called because of their alleged use of traditional martial arts - were embraced by the Empress Dowager and besieged foreign embassies in Beijing in 1900. The consequence was a crushing defeat of the Chinese by an Eight-Nation Alliance - consisting of Russia, Britain, France, the United States, Japan, Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy. The imposed punishment was severe: 67 million pounds worth of indemnities as well as new occupation rights to the foreign powers.

Nowadays, things would be slightly different.

China currently has the largest active military in the world with almost 2.3 million men. According to Bloomberg, China's defense spending is the second highest in the world after the U.S., as it plans to increase the figures by 11.2% this year. China cites government concerns over terrorism, as well as threats to the stability in Tibet and Xinjiang province for its defense budget growth.

According to Yonhap News, a Korean foreign ministry official will consider appealing for clemency for Mr. Jang. He said,

With regard to the sentence on Jang, we plan to appeal for clemency within the scope of not infringing on the judicial sovereignty of China ... But, there is a chance we can't expect a tangible result.

With such tremendous economic and military might, we should hope that traditional diplomacy will still remain an option when dealing with China.