Australia’s prime minister expressed concern Monday after an Australian man was sentenced to death, in a case that could further inflame tensions between Beijing and Canberra. The Australian PM airing concerns comes amid a detangling of the previously close relations between the two giants, as Australia has joined the chorus of Western nations asking China to be more transparent about the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
ALERT: #China wants to execute Australian: Karm Gilespie. Australian actor sentenced to death in China was set up, say friends. The actor turned financial investor, who was sentenced to death for drug smuggling, had been duped into carrying drugs. https://t.co/vTmwaqj0LV pic.twitter.com/htvFSmLKRV
— alpнacenтaυrї (@alphacentauriii) June 15, 2020
A Chinese court revealed on Saturday that Karm Gilespie, a Sydney-based actor turned investment coach, had been condemned to death earlier in the week on drug smuggling charges — after being held secretly in jail for seven years.
Australian PM airs concerns: the incident
It was revealed earlier that an Australian man has been sentenced to death in China for drug trafficking.
The man, named in Chinese pinyin as “Kamu Jielaisibi” and identified by Australian media as Cam Gillespie, was handed the death penalty by Guangzhou Intermediate People’s Court on Wednesday, according to a notice posted on the court website.
The notice revealed no details about the defendant besides his Australian nationality.
According to Chinese local media, Gillespie was arrested at Guangzhou Baiyun Airport, northwest of Hong Kong, in December 2013 with more than 7.5 kilograms (16 pounds) of methamphetamine in his checked luggage.
Australian PM airs concerns to China
The sentence raised worries it could add to increasingly troubled diplomatic and trade relations between Australia and China, its biggest trade partner.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australian authorities were aware of the arrest and had been in touch with their Chinese counterparts on multiple occasions over his case.
“I and the government are very sad and concerned that an Australian citizen, Mr Karm Gilespie has been sentenced to death in China,” he said.
Chinese state media said Gilespie, in his mid-fifties, was arrested on New Year’s eve in 2013 at Guangzhou Baiyun Airport, northwest of Hong Kong, with more than 7.5 kilograms (16 pounds) of methamphetamine in his checked luggage.
His arrest was not made public and friends told Australian media they had been confounded by his sudden disappearance.
Deputy PM Michael McCormack says Australia is working "very, very hard" to secure the release of Australian Karm Gilespie, dealing with what is a "very delicate situation" with China @7NewsAustralia
— Olivia Leeming (@olivialeeming) June 14, 2020
Gilespie’s family issued a statement Monday asking his acquaintances to “refrain from speculating on his current circumstances, which we do not believe assists his case.”
“Our family is very saddened by the situation. We will not be making any public comment and ask that the media respects our privacy at this difficult time,” they said in the statement issued through the foreign ministry.
Incident comes amid tanking Australia-China relations
The sentence could further damage the increasingly troubled relationship between Beijing and Canberra, with tensions growing recently after China reacted furiously to Australia’s call for a probe into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
Beijing subsequently imposed tariffs on Australian goods and warned Chinese tourists and students about visiting because of racism Down Under.
Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said Sunday that Australians “shouldn’t necessarily” see Gilespie’s sentence as further retaliation by China.
But conservative commentators were quick to make the link.
Greg Sheridan, foreign editor of The Australian newspaper, said the sentencing “has to be seen as Beijing continuing its fierce and increasingly vicious punishments of Australia.”
Last year, China sentenced two Canadian nationals to death on drug trafficking charges during an escalating diplomatic row with Canada over the arrest of top Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.
Canadian attempts to plead for clemency for Robert Schellenberg and Fan Wei have so far been unsuccessful.
Australia-China relations: what prompted this nadir?
Tensions between Beijing and Canberra have spiked in recent months over Australia’s decision to exclude Chinese telecom giant Huawei from the rollout of the country’s 5G network, disputes over the South China Sea, Beijing’s interference in Australian politics and businesses, and Australia’s harboring of a self-described former Chinese spy.
China claims the proposed COVID-19 inquiry is a political witch-hunt orchestrated by Washington and backed by Canberra, with the aim of isolating and humiliating Beijing.
Downer, the former Australian foreign minister, dismissed Beijing’s comments, telling the ABC that there must be an impartial investigation into the cause of the outbreak.
“The global economy has been brought to a halt; 200,000 people are dead as a result of it,” he said. “We’ve got to investigate it. I’m very surprised that the Chinese should be so resistant to getting to the heart of what happened.”
The Chinese embassy in Canberra released a statement that was dismissive of Australia’s concerns.
Earlier, China also threatened a consumer boycott of Australian goods because of alleged racism faced by its citizens in Australia.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk
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