An Australian has been sentenced to death in China for drug trafficking, in a ruling that could further inflame tensions between Beijing and Canberra. This decision comes at a time when both economic powerhouses are at loggerheads and are waging an ideological battle against each other.
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.
Australian sentenced to death in China amid diplomatic storm
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.
China is Australia’s largest trading partner, as well as a major source of lucrative international students and tourists.
But relations have been troubled in recent years and worsened after China reacted furiously to Australia’s call for an independent probe into the origins of the deadly coronavirus pandemic.
In an apparent response to the demand, Beijing imposed tariffs on Australian barley and issued travel warnings to tourists and students over virus-linked racism against ethnic Asians.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has dismissed allegations of racist treatment of Chinese as “rubbish”, adding that his government would “never be intimidated by threats” or “trade our values in response to coercion from wherever it comes”.
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 not been successful.
China has also detained two Canadian nationals, including a former diplomat, on spying charges, in a move widely considered to be in retaliation for Meng’s arrest.
Australian sentenced to death in China as tensions increase
Tensions have grown steadily in recent years between the two governments as Australia has moved to counter Chinese moves to build its influence both domestically and across the Pacific region.
More recently Canberra angered Beijing by leading calls for an international probe into the origin and handling of the coronavirus pandemic in central China.
Later, China issued a travel warning for its citizens travelling to Australia, alleging that Chinese were discriminated and subject to racist remarks there. Australia, who’s largest export is education, and which depends on a steady influx of immigrants and foreign students, quickly shot back saying that the claims were exaggerated.
Earlier, Australia and India has signed a security deal, which analysts say is a move to counterbalance Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific region. China, which has accumulated huge diplomatic and military clout has been angered by this development, especially as it has been struck between two countries it has not been on the best of terms with.
Australian-China relationships hurtling toward failure
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 said Cheng was dismissive of Australia’s concerns.
“Ambassador Cheng flatly rejected the concerns expressed from the Australian side over his remarks during the recent interview, and called on Australia to put aside ideological bias, stop political games and do more to promote bilateral relations,” the spokesperson said.
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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