Executions, world peace, Copenhagen and political footballs
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Executions, world peace, Copenhagen and political footballs


An execution and green business. Not topics normally associated with each other. Green business is generally a subject made all the more interesting in that these days it certainly includes not only business and environmental issues but requires a smattering of knowledge about politics, racism and a general sense of how to maintain balanced opinion with the chips on both sides of nations’ shoulders.

And that was the only clearly discernible conclusion to be drawn from the greatest non-agreement world leaders have ever scrawled their illegible signatures upon: Copenhagen.

The whole thing was a case of ‘us’ and ‘them’ and in future columns I’ll quite happily draw up a list of irresponsible names at which we can throw our metaphorical darts.

For now, however, I’d like to draw your attention to the latest China/UK row and the fact that the climate change argument is possibly going to see the death of a man, not in 20 years’ time but just after Christmas.

For some time Britain and China have had an uneasy relationship when it comes to the climate change debate. The most recent spat started with Britain’s climate change Secretary Ed Miliband accusing China of vetoing two agreements on limiting emissions at Copenhagen. The response from Beijing was a foreign ministry statement saying the accusations were a political plot made by leaders who wanted to shirk their own obligations.

Now let’s get this in perspective. Miliband was writing in the Guardian that four or five nations had been particularly obstructive in signing up to any agreement and he pointed the finger at China, as being one of these. (India is another). “We did not get an agreement on 50 percent reductions in global emissions by 2050 or on 80 percent reductions by developed countries,” he wrote. “Both were vetoed by China, despite the support of a coalition of developed, and the vast majority of developing, countries.” (Britain has already committed to 80 percent reduction on 1990 CO2 levels.)

While I find it tough to believe anything that comes from the mouth of a British Labour minister, the collective state gob of China inspires even less of a belief in moral integrity. While the foreign ministry spokeswoman, Jiang Yu (pictured), berated British ministers for saying such a thing (but wait did China and India refuse to sign a binding accord or not?) and that it should not shirk responsibilities that should be assumed towards developing countries, the political tension has spilled into diplomacy, or rather a lack of.

At stake in this political tit-for-tat is a man’s life, according to the British prisoners’ rights charity, Reprieve.

A British citizen, Akmal Shaikh, is due to become the first British citizen to be executed in China for over 50 years, it is thought. He was arrested in September 2007 on arrival in Urumqi, the capital of the far western Xinjiang region, in possession of four kilograms of heroin. He claims that he was duped into carrying the drugs for a criminal gang.

We’ll come back to the man’s guilt or innocence in a moment but appeals for clemency from EU ministers and the British prime minister, Gordon Brown, have fallen on the deaf ears of Chinese President Hu Jintao. Indeed the might of the Chinese state apparatus rolled out foreign ministry spokeswoman, Jiang Yu again. She said: “China’s judicial authorities independently handled this case in accordance with the law. Drug smuggling is a grave crime in international practice…. During the entire process, the litigation rights and the relevant rights and interests of the defendant were fully respected and guaranteed.”

But not according to Reprieve. Speaking on BBC radio one of the charity’s directors said that the main reason why China had ignored diplomatic attempts to get the death penalty rescinded was because of the animosity over the climate change row with the UK and for it to put on the stony-face approach and play political football with his life.

The British government says not very much only that it regretted the stance taken by the Chinese authorities … blah, blah, blah.

What has made this case so appalling is that the authorities refuse to accept that the man has mental problems. In spite of Reprieve paying for British psychologist Dr Schaapveld to visit him, the authorities refused access.

Now many would argue that anyone smuggling drugs in China must be mental or a guilty man would say anything.

He says he was duped into carrying a bag for a gentleman from China who he had stayed with at a 5 star hotel in Tajikistan and was visiting to get work in his nightclub.

But there is concrete evidence that Shaikh moved from Poland to China in the belief he would become a pop star and his song would help world peace. This was after he had failed setting up an airline in Poland.

Perfectly rational, I’d say. World Peace. Chinese pop star. Airline. Pixies at the bottom of the garden, too.

And the Chinese authorities must also think there’s something wrong with him. In spite of advice to the contrary from his lawyers, Shaikh read out a statement to court. The judges, it was reported, couldn’t contain their mirth.

So why is it green business? It’s possible that the Chinese premier will commute the sentence before December 29, but his life is being used as the political football that is climate change and China is certainly seeing it as defending its economic interest.

It is not the first time. Earlier this year it arrested and charged executives from Rio Tinto, a mining giant, on suspicion of stealing trade secrets and taking bribes. The reality was that Rio Rinto had “upset” China’s pride and economic interests and the action was regarded as retaliation for the collapse of Rio’s proposed deal with Chinese state-owned firm Chinalco.

It scrapped the $19.5 billion investment by Chinalco and went with another Anglo-Australian miner, BHP Billiton.

Doing business that relates to climate change and commodities for China’s resource-hungry industries means you also need to understand politics.