Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Economist on Liu Xiaobo and Akmal Shaikh

Drugs are a big deal in China, with all forms of it -- cigarettes notwithstanding -- considered equally deplorable. It's not just in China, of course, where trafficking is punishable by death; at the border of several southeast Asian countries, you will see signs that say, without equivocation, that carrying drugs across the border could result in the severest of penalties.

But China's experience with drugs, specifically opium, has been particularly stark, leaving psychic scars that won't soon disappear. And so it may not come as the biggest surprise that Akmal Shaikh, a British national found guilty of smuggling heroin, was executed on December 29 despite protests -- some justified and some laughable -- from the British and human rights groups.

Writes the Economist:

Although it ended in the first known execution of a European in China since the 1950s, Mr Shaikh’s case was otherwise not unusual. According to available (and incomplete) statistics, China executed 1,700 convicts in 2008, or nearly five each day.

And in the case of Liu Xiaobo, the Charter 08 organizer who James Fallows wrote about here, the Economist says:

Neither was the harsh treatment meted out to Mr Liu unusual by Chinese standards. Criticism of the government, though always risky, is sometimes tolerated. Attempts to organise criticism, however, as Mr Liu had by helping draft a petition calling for political freedoms, are routinely met with a firm thumping. Jailed twice before for his political activities Mr Liu knew this as well as anyone. He had said he was ready to face prison again.

Of course, these events, once again, set up the classic China vs. The West battle of ideology, with all the predictable rancor and online accusations of this person or that commentator belonging to the Ministry of Truth. It's sad and trite, making you want to tell everyone to just get over themselves.

In any case, there are two sides to each argument, and the Economist has provided measured reportage on them.

On the other hand, British newspapers like the Telegraph aren't so responsible:

One of the more touching messages I receive in the run-up to the outrageous execution of Akmal Shaikh in China this morning is from a London-based “working girl”, who tells me she is boycotting all Chinese clients for a year in protest.

Please, spare me any sanctimonious injunctions about her chosen way of life. She’s doing what she can. And how many business people have decided today to withdraw their services from the Chinese? I think, in this context at least, she is acting with great dignity and self-respect.

That's from Anglican priest George Pitcher. Hilarious. It wouldn't quite make Huffington Post's Dumbest Quotes of The 2000s, but it's ridiculous nonetheless.

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