Aussie Trade Minister Avoids Linking China’s Death Sentence to Bilateral Tensions Despite Canada Precedence

June 15, 2020 Updated: June 17, 2020

Federal Trade Minister Simon Birmingham does not want to link the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) death sentence of an Australian man—handed down 7 years after he was imprisoned—to current bilateral tensions, despite the similarities to a previous case involving a Canadian man.

Australian man Karm Gilespie has been imprisoned in China since 2013 for smuggling drugs but was only sentenced to death by Guangzhou Intermediate People’s Court on June 10.

A friend of Gilespie has posted messages on social media pleading his innocence. The friend, Roger Hamilton, alleges that Gilespie was set up, saying the drugs were found in luggage that was given to Gilespie as a gift from the Chinese investors he met with.

The timing of the death sentence has raised questions about whether it is connected to current trade tensions between Australia and China, which followed the federal government’s push for an inquiry into the origins of the CCP virus, commonly known as novel coronavirus.

Birmingham has attempted to play down these claims.

Asked in an interview with Sky News’ Kieron Gilbert whether he thought there was a link to bilateral tensions, Birmingham said: “We shouldn’t necessarily view it as such.”

The trade minister said Australia condemns the death penalty in all circumstances across all countries.

Gilbert pointed out to Birmingham that the CCP held a retrial and sentenced a Canadian to death during tensions with China last year. “There are some similarities here,” he noted.

Birmingham replied: “We should also note that China makes extensive use of the death penalty. That’s not something that Australia condones, but it’s a simple statement of fact.”

Last year Canadian Robert Schellenberg was convicted of methamphetamine smuggling. After four years of serving a 15-year prison sentence, he was sentenced to death after a hasty retrial.

His execution was seen as retribution for Canada arresting Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou.

Contradicting Views on Retaliation Claims

Since the trade dispute between China and Australia began in April, ministers and members of Parliament have preferred to address issues that arise on its merits and avoid engaging in “tit for tat” politics.

Ministers have also avoided saying the Chinese regime is retaliating against Australia’s actions deemed detrimental to Beijing’s interests including calls for an inquiry into the origins of the CCP virus, and the recently announced foreign investment laws.

However, the Chinese state-owned media group Global Times, a vocal commentator on regime-related issues, has been outspoken in saying Beijing’s actions are in fact retaliatory in nature.

On June 9, the Global Times editorial board wrote: “From its push for a U.S.-led inquiry into COVID-19, to its interference in the Hong Kong affair, and the upcoming overhaul of its foreign investment rules that are expected to tighten scrutiny over foreign investment, Australian politicians are demonstrating their antipathy toward China.”

“If Australia wants to retain the gain from its economic ties with China, it must make a real change to its current stance on China, or it will completely lose the benefits of Chinese consumers,” the Global Times wrote. “The tourism loss may be just a tip of iceberg in its loss of Chinese interest.”

Epoch Times Photo
Supreme People’s Court of China in Beijing, Dec. 20, 2018. (Wang Zhao/AFP via Getty Images)

China’s Judicial System ‘Should be Severely Criticised’: Former Chinese Judge

Birmingham has said that the Australian government will argue against the death penalty for 56-year-old Gilespie, but admitted the CCP’s legal system is a challenge, saying: “It’s not our legal system, it’s not our justice system.”

While Birmingham is hesitant to speak against the CCP’s judicial system, a former Chinese Supreme Court judge has said that it should be “severely criticised.”

Xie Weidong was a Supreme Court judge in China for 10 years before stepping down in 2000. He spoke to The Epoch Times in 2019 and revealed the extent of corruption in the regime’s legal system—including at times being told what ruling he should hand down before the trial.

Now a resident of Toronto, Xie was sponsored by his Canadian wife to become a permanent resident and was being pursued by the same justice system he once worked for.

“I have a thorough understanding of the Chinese Communist Party’s judicial system, and this system has very serious problems. I hope that the international community can know more about it,” Xie told The Epoch Times.

Xie Weidong
Xie Weidong’s ID while working as a Supreme Court judge in China. (Courtesy Xie Weidong)

In 2015, Xie learned that police in China requested Interpol place him on its red notice list – which is issued for fugitives. The Chinese police allege he was involved in corruption and accepting bribes while serving as a judge. This impeded his Canadian residency application.

An Interpol statement, a copy of which was seen by The Epoch Times, cited a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) on the methods employed by Chinese authorities to force those on its wanted list to return to China. Interpol said that in Xie’s case they considered what HRW wrote about “unjustified detentions, threats of collective punishments, restrictions of movements, and financial measures” used against him.

In August 2019, Interpol told Xie’s U.S.-based lawyer that it had removed him from the list, saying there was a “predominant political dimension” to China’s request. A Canadian court later found the claims by the CCP were not based on evidence. The immigration department eventually approved his application.

“The sound and effective legal system in the West has protected my legitimate rights,” Xie said. “A sound legal system can correctly identify facts and effectively protect people’s legal rights because it only believes in evidence.”

Xie said that his experience demonstrates the corruption of the CCP’s justice system, saying: “Such a judicial system should be severely criticised.”

Gilespie has been given 10 days to appeal before executions are carried out. Birmingham acknowledged how distressing it must be for Gilespie and his loved ones.

“… Our Government will continue to provide consular assistance to him and, of course, will continue to make representations, as we do right around the world, against the use of the death penalty,” Birmingham said.

Gilespie was arrested with more than 7.5 kilograms of methamphetamine in his check-in luggage while attempting to board an international flight from Baiyun Airport in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou.

Epoch Times reporters Daniel Teng and Omid Ghoreishi contributed to this article.