Australia says China death ruling may not be reprisal
An Australian man’s death sentence by a Chinese court for drug smuggling shouldn’t necessarily be seen as retaliation over tensions between the two nations, according to Trade and Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham.
The Guangzhou Intermediate People’s Court announced the sentencing of Karm Gilespie on Saturday, Australian Associated Press reported. He was arrested with more than 7.5 kilogrammes of methamphetamine in his check-in luggage in 2013 while attempting to board an international flight from Baiyun Airport in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, it said.
The sentencing comes amid increasing signs of a widening rift between the key trading partners after Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison led calls for an independent probe into the origins of Covid-19. Beijing responded with verbal attacks, accusing Australia of doing the bidding of the US. New tariffs on Australian barley and a ban on beef from four meatworks have raised concerns in Canberra that China is retaliating with “economic coercion”.
Australia condemns the use of the death penalty and would continue to provide consular assistance and make representations on behalf of Gilespie, Birmingham said Sunday in a television interview with Sky News. Asked whether the sentence was retaliation over bi-lateral tensions, Birmingham said “we shouldn’t necessarily view it as such.”
China has made extensive use of the death penalty and carried out sentences over the past decade on citizens from the Philippines, Japan and other parts of the world, he said.
Birmingham reiterated his desire to visit China for talks when appropriate and said Australia was continuing to make representations at an official and diplomatic level on a range of issues.
“But these discussions do need to happen between leaders, between ministers as well, and I hope that we will see China agree to that and do so, ideally, sooner rather than later,” he said. “It doesn’t need to wait for a visit, it can be done through virtual summits.”
Asked about a report the Australian government could cut the quarantine period for some business travellers, Birmingham said there was a lot of contingency work being done about different scenarios as “we gradually seek to reopen all parts” of the economy.
Talks about potentially opening up travel with New Zealand were well-publicised and known and “we hope to see progress on that as our states and territories now hopefully move to dismantle their state borders and give New Zealand confidence to open up to Australia,” he said.