China: A Paragon of Due Process, an Example for Observing International Law?

When the New York Times and others published the story that China had decided against using an armed drone over Myanmar’s territory to kill an infamous drug lord wanted in the horrific murders of 13 Chinese sailors, but instead captured the man alive and brought him to trial in China, it was acclaimed by some who oppose the use of drones by the U.S. to target terrorists as a magnanimous act of justice, morality and respect for international law.

Some credited the Chinese regime with greater moral conscience and respect for international law than the United States.

This credit to a country that according to Human Rights Watch, “continues to be an authoritarian one-party state that imposes sharp curbs on freedom of expression, association, and religion; openly rejects judicial independence and press freedom; and arbitrarily restricts and suppresses human rights defenders and organizations, often through extra-judicial measures.”

Have we already forgotten Tiananmen Square, Tibet, Xinjiang, etc.?

Dennis M. Gormley, an expert on unmanned aircraft at the University of Pittsburgh, after expressing little surprise at China’s original plan to use an armed drone to go after the drug lord — “Given the gruesome nature of the 2011 killings and the Chinese public’s outcry for action” — brazenly blames the United States for allegedly providing a bad example to China — a country that has violated just about every human right and which is guilty of using the most loathsome and brutal tools of warfare, torture and oppression against its own people and other countries. He says, “And [the Chinese] surely will have America’s armed drone practice as a convenient cover for legitimating their own practice,” according to the Times.

Liu Yuejin, the director of the Ministry of Public Security’s anti-drug bureau told the Global Times, “One plan was to use an unmanned aircraft to carry 20 kilograms of TNT to bomb the area, but the plan was rejected, because the order was to catch him alive.”

One certainly has to wonder whether such order was eventually given for legal or humanitarian reasons, or perhaps because of the information Chinese officials were anxious to extract from the drug lord, Naw Kham, and his gang members.

Again, Human Rights Watch: “Weak courts and tight limits on the rights of the defense mean that forced confessions under torture remain prevalent and miscarriages of justice frequent.”

“Naw Kham and three members of his gang were sentenced to death on November 6 last year for killing 13 Chinese sailors, according to a verdict from the Intermediate People’s Court of Kunming. On December 26, the Provincial Higher People’s Court of Yunnan maintained the sentences, rejecting appeals.” says the Global Times.

Kham and his gang members probably deserve such severe sentences and will join the other 5,000 to 8,000 men and women who Human Rights Watch believes — the exact number is a state secret — are executed every year in China, making it a world leader in executions.

The same drone expert who claims that America’s armed drone practice will give China a convenient cover for legitimizing their own practice also suggests that the decision not to carry out a drone strike might reflect a lack of confidence in untested Chinese craft, control systems or drone pilots, according to the Times.

Could that perhaps have been one of the reasons for abandoning the armed drone plan, instead of China’s thirst for due process?

I do not have the answers to such questions, but given China’s abominable human rights record and the nature of its justice system and the character of its military and security forces, I would not be throwing bouquets at this incident solely to prove a point on the use of drones for anti-terrorist or military purposes.

Image: www.shutterstock.com

Author: DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist