Leading article: A disturbing prelude to an era of growing Chinese power

Draconian sentences highlight Beijing's indifference to democratic values

Share
Related Topics

At the end of a decade in which China has become a global power, it is making headlines for the wrong reasons. First, it was accused of wrecking the climate change talks in Copenhagen. Then there was the savage sentence meted out to the courageous dissident Liu Xiaobo. His so-called crime has been to persistently call for constitutional change and reform of the one-party system, for which he has just been handed a swingeing 11-year sentence.

And now there is the firing squad awaiting the Briton Akmal Shaikh this week. Unless Beijing reacts at last to repeated pleas for clemency that have come from his relatives and from the Foreign Office, he may have the unhappy distinction of becoming the first European to be executed in China in half a century.

The crime of which he is convicted, smuggling hard drugs, is grave. But it is a poor reflection on Chinese justice that their courts have neither accepted as an extenuating circumstance, nor apparently even investigated, what appears to be sound evidence that Mr Shaikh suffers from the delusions that often accompany bipolar disorder. His execution would be a terrible stain on China's reputation.

Barely noticed has been a round of sentences that call attention to another disagreeable aspect of China's justice system: its harshness towards minorities. Christmas Day saw another five death penalties handed down to Uighurs for their role in the ethnic riots that shook Xinjiang province in summer. That brings to 22 the number of death penalties ordered in connection with the riots since September, nine of which have already been carried out.

We must hope Mr Shaikh secures a last-minute reprieve. If not, his case, alongside that of Mr Liu and those of the Uighurs earmarked for execution, serve as a reminder that China's emergence as a world power, accelerated by the global financial crisis, comes with strings attached.

Most people are rightly impressed with China's economic resurgence and its cultural self-confidence. But all too often we in the West assume that the democratic values we hold dear will somehow spontaneously ignite in China as an inevitable by-product of growing wealth. It seems increasingly clear that this is not the case. The Chinese authorities have no intention of permitting the emergence of a democratic debate, and will continue to pursue the same combination of economic liberalism and political authoritarianism that have served their purpose to date.

Worryingly, as we enter an era in which America's power seems set to wane while that of China's rises, this idiosyncratic model will increasingly be seen as worthy of emulation. This is already the case in the Far East in countries like Vietnam, where the regime is clearly bent on managing affairs according to a Chinese recipe. But as Chinese influence spreads through trade and loans, notably in Africa, China's authoritarian model is likely to become an object of admiration and imitation there as well.

Western democracies must play their hands carefully if they are not be outflanked. Our governments must not begrudge the scale of China's achievements. But democracies must not be cowed into silence over the fate of individuals or groups crushed beneath the state machine. This decade will be the one in which the Chinese consolidate their position on the world stage. We should welcome their arrival with a smile – but keep our eyes wide open as we fight for the beliefs that we cherish.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Graduate C#.NET Developer (TDD, ASP.NET, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Graduate C#.NET Developer (TDD, ASP.NET, SQL) Su...

Junior SQL DBA (SQL Server 2012, T-SQL, SSIS) London - Finance

£30000 - £33000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior SQL DBA...

C# Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, MVC-4, HTML5) London

£35000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Web Develop...

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A street in Rotherham, where the Jay report has exposed the abuse of 1400 children  

Rotherham child sexual abuse scandal - the lessons: We need solutions, not scapegoats

Paul Vallely
 

No menu! Dining doesn't get posher than this

Dom Joly
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution