A Chinese government mouthpiece has claimed Australia “wants to politicise” the death penalty verdict given to Karm Gilespie and has said the country’s attitude to China is becoming “increasingly irrational”.
Australia was “playing the victim” by calling out Chinese “bullying”.
The comments came in an editorial published by the Global Times, an English language newspaper that is controlled by the Communist Party dictatorship. The publication has featured a string of articles in recent weeks targeting Australia.
Gilespie, 56, was sentenced to death for carrying 7.5kg of methamphetamine in his check-in luggage while attempting to board an international flight from Baiyun Airport, in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou.
He was arrested in secret in 2013 but only sentenced in the Guangzhou Intermediate People’s Court on Saturday. He had just 10 days to appeal the verdict.
Mr Gilespie’s friend Roger Hamilton wrote on Facebook that the former Blue Heelers actor had a meeting with a “group of Chinese business people” prior to his flight and that the group “agreed to invest in one of Karm’s projects”.
But he said they duped him by asking him to carry “gifts” on board the flight including leather goods and luggage.
“In the linings of the gifts of course is where the drugs were stashed,” Mr Hamilton wrote.
Trade Minister Simon Birmingham told Sky News’ Sunday Agenda the sentence was “very distressing for Mr Gilespie and his loved ones”.
He said Australia condemned the use of the death penalty and would continue to provide consular assistance but said that “we shouldn’t necessarily view” the court case and deteriorating China-Australia relations as being linked.
That interview didn’t go unnoticed in China’s upper echelons with The Global Times article directly referencing it.
“Australia, among other Western countries, always touts itself as a country under the rule of law, yet when China tries to uphold the rule of law, Australia wants to politicise China’s court ruling.
“Australia has abolished capital punishment, but it makes no sense if Australia keeps using its own legal standards to criticise China’s ruling. Chinese society as a whole has zero tolerance for drug trafficking.”
AUSTRALIA SHOULD “NOT INTERVENE”
The paper also railed against Mr Gilespie’s friends for airng thier views on the verdict.
“Some Australian media outlets quoted positive comments about Gilespie from his acquaintances, describing this verdict as unfair and inhumane.
“They deliberately ignored the fact that the man they are defending is a drug trafficker.
“Drug smuggling is a very serious and harmful crime that should be dealt with harshly. The verdict for Gilespie is a just, fair ruling China has made in strict accordance with its laws,” it said.
“By sentencing Gilespie to death, China has shown its zero tolerance on drug offences. China is determined to crack down on drug trafficking in strict accordance with law, which should be respected and not intervened by Australia.”
The paper pointed out that a number of foreigners, including from Japan, Britain and Canada, have also faced death sentences.
In January, Canadian Robert Lloyd Schellenberg saw his 15-year sentence for drug trafficking upped to death.
Chinese-Canadian relations have been fraught ever since Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of controversial tech firm Huawei, was arrested in Vancouver in 2018 accused of evading sanctions against Iran. Ms Wanzhou has contested the allegations and China has denied the arrest and death sentence are connected.
Nonetheless, Gilespie’s sentence also comes during tense times, but this time for China and Australia.
Beijing is furious with Canberra for spearheading a push for an international inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic and raising concerns about the erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy.
The country has slapped extra tariffs on the import Australian goods and warned tourists and students that racism against Chinese nationals is on the rise.
China has denied that any of these moves are linked to the increasing frostiness of the Sino-Australian political relationship.
However, The Global Times article said Australia’s push back against the sentence, and Mr Birmingham’s remarks on Sunday, “leads to worries that bilateral relations may further deteriorate”.
AUSTRALIA ‘INCREASINGLY IRRATIONAL’
The editorial went beyond Mr Gilespie’s death penalty, though, and continued to push Beijing’s line that Australia is following orders from the US.
“Australia’s mentality toward China has become increasingly irrational,” it said.
“It has chosen to act as a pawn of the US in confronting China, while it doesn’t want to face the consequences.
“Canberra has repeatedly harmed China’s interests unilaterally, however, as China took actions to safeguard its legitimate rights and interests, Australia has played the victim, calling China’s counteractions ‘bullying’ or ‘coercion’.”
It added that Prime Minister Scott Morrison had “disregarded the spike in racial discrimination and racial attacks against Chinese people in Australia” and “blasted China’s pre-warning issued to Chinese students as ‘coercion’”.
“It’s time for Australia to face up to reality and be able to tell right from wrong,” said the paper.
This appears to be in reference to comments last week by Mr Morrison on Sydney radio station 2GB where he said Chinese students would choose for themselves where to study and that Australia continued to be a “compelling” option due to its high-quality education system.
“We are an open-trade nation but I am never going to trade our values in response to coercion from wherever it comes,” he said.
“One thing Australia will always do is act in our national interest and never be intimidated by threats.”