Relatives of a Briton executed in China yesterday accused Britain of being diplomatically powerless because of its economic dependence on the Asian giant, after Beijing ignored London’s clemency appeals.
Two cousins of Akmal Shaikh also accused the West of double standards for citing human rights abuses to justify its invasions of countries such as Afghanistan but failing to take the same approach toward Beijing.
Shaikh, a father of three whom supporters say was mentally ill, was executed on Tuesday for drug smuggling despite extensive British ministerial lobbying that continued almost up until his execution.
In a letter to the Guardian newspaper, his cousins Amina and Ridwan Shaikh lamented the lack of real British influence in the case.
“Did the British government pull out its diplomats in protest? Did it have a hard-hitting strategy to persuade the Chinese authorities to change their decision?” they wrote.
“This is an example of Britain’s powerlessness in the world. Their strategy of being shoulder to shoulder with the US in the ‘war on terror’ has not given them the status they so desperately desire,” they wrote.
The cousins noted that “one of the justifications we are told for invading countries like Afghanistan is ‘human rights violations.’”
“If it is accepted by all that there are gross violations taking place in China, why aren’t they, too, invaded? This is purely to do with the fact that China is a powerful country economically,” they wrote. “Britain’s economic dependence far outweighs these ‘individual cases.’”
The comments were far stronger than those of two other of Shaikh’s cousins, Soohail and Nasir Shaikh, who traveled to China to meet the condemned Briton hours before his death.
Chinese Ambassador Fu Ying (傅瑩) was hauled into the Foreign Office hours after the execution on Tuesday to be told of Britain’s anger, in what was described as a “difficult” meeting.
Foreign Office Minister Ivan Lewis — who had already summoned Fu once on Monday in a last-ditch appeal for clemency — said afterwards that Shaikh’s death was “totally unacceptable.”
But in Beijing officials insisted that Shaikh’s legal rights had been fully protected.
Britain has vast trade and economic ties with China, and has long underlined the need to engage closely with Beijing despite criticism notably of China’s human rights record.
But its ties with Beijing have also been more complicated than with many other countries, due to historical issues including the 1997 return of Hong Kong. More recently Britain risked Chinese ire in September by sending Lewis to Tibet, where he underlined London’s support for greater Tibetan autonomy.
Then at this month’s Copenhagen climate summit Environment Minister Ed Miliband said China had led a group of countries that “hijacked” the negotiations.
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