Han Dongping

The age of extraterritorial rights in China is over

By Han Dongping (chinadaily.com.cn)
Updated: 2010-01-04 16:44
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British citizen Akmal Shaikh was arrested in China for drug smuggling in 2007. He was tried in the Chinese legal system, and the sentence of death was imposed on him according to the Chinese criminal law. Because of this sentence, the British government, as well as its prime minister has put a lot of pressure on the Chinese government, hoping to get special treatment from the Chinese legal system for its citizen.

There are many other international organizations, including the United Nations, European Union and the Amnesty International, trying to press China to bend to their proposals. This time, the Chinese Government did not give in to the concerted foreign pressure and upheld the dignity of Chinese law by carrying out its sentence against Akmal Shaikh.

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British Prime Minister Brown was very upset with the Chinese government action and continued to criticize the Chinese government’s decision to uphold the dignity of Chinese law. It seems that the prime minister, and these other international organizations that are trying to put pressure on the Chinese government, need to be reminded that the age of extraterritorial rights in China is over.

Many young people no longer understand what the term of extraterritorial rights means today. Therefore it warrants some historical explanation. It was a concept imposed first by the British government, and followed by other western imperialist nations, on China and other third world countries in the age of western imperialism and colonialism.

The age of extraterritorial rights in China is over

At that time, British subjects and citizens of other Western nations enjoyed the so called extraterritorial rights in China and other third world countries, whereas the laws of the third world countries had no jurisdictions over the British subjects and citizens of other western powers. It did not matter what crimes they committed in China or other third world countries, the local laws and law enforcement agencies could not exercise jurisdiction over them. Criminals had to be turned over to the British authorities or other Western Nations respectively for trial. In most cases, these criminals, including murderers would be set free by their own government. During the age of extraterritorial rights, British subjects and citizens of other western nations enjoyed the equivalent of diplomatic immunity from their crimes in China and other third world countries.

During WWII, China played an important role in Allied forces’ efforts in pacific theater. The American government and British government in an effort to show solidarity with Chinese people during the war time, gave up the so-called extraterritorial rights in China in 1943. However, Chiang Kai-shek’s corrupt government, too dependent on American aid to survive, signed another treaty with the American government which basically continued to give extraterritorial rights to American citizens and other foreigners in China.

It was only after Chinese Communist Party won the Chinese Civil War in 1949, when Mao Zedong’s people’s government effectively terminated the extraterritorial rights enjoyed by the American and British nationals as well as citizens of other western nations in China, by executing American spies in Beijing. After that, no foreigners dared to expect special treatment on Chinese territory.

However, in the beginning of 1980s, the Chinese government, in its effort to increase trade with western nations and to attract foreign investment to China, began to allow flexible treatment for some people, both Chinese nationals and foreign nationals under outside pressure. The Chinese government returned Wu Hongda, a Chinese dissident with an American passport, to the United States, after sentencing him to long prison terms, effectively allowing him the extraterritorial rights in 1994.

I pointed it out in an article published in the U.S. in 1994, that when a country is willing to bend its laws under outside pressure, it invites endless troubles in the future. People would cease to respect the laws of that country, and would expect that country to bend its law all the time. Since then, many foreign governments and international organizations have learned to press China to bend its laws so that they could get what they wanted.

Western nations and western governments have been using human rights as an excuse to intervene in China’s and other third world countries’ internal affairs. Many people, including many Chinese people, have been fooled by the western rhetoric of human rights.

In this world of nation states, real human rights can not exist. We are not only human beings. We are also Chinese, or Americans, or Briton or any other nationalities respectively. We simply can not escape the “label of our nationality”. Just like the different brands of products in the supermarkets having different price tags, people of different nationalities are treated with differentiated “human rights,” according to the weight of their respective countries.

People should not forget what former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said after the terrorist attack of 9•11. He said that he would deal with western nations according to international law, but he would deal with the third world countries with preemptive strikes. In the eyes of western imperialists, the people in the third world countries do not deserve human rights, because they are “subhuman”. When Bill Clinton suspected that Saddam Hussein was involved in a assassination scheme against former president George H. W. Bush, he did not hesitate to launch missile attacks against Iraq before he had any conclusive evidence. When Bill Clinton was told that a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan was suspected by the CIA of manufacturing chemical weapons, he launched missile attacks before he had any conclusive evidence to prove his suspicions. Because the American government wanted to get rid of Saddam Hussein, more than one hundred thousand innocent Iraqi people had to make the ultimate sacrifice of their lives.

America is now engaged in an extensive anti-terrorist war in Pakistan and Afghan. Their air strikes frequently claim the lives of innocent Pakistani people and Afghan people, who are always simply considered as legitimate collateral damages of their military operations. Do western nations really care about the “human rights” of the people in third world countries? The answer seems crystal clear to anyone who has any critical thinking skills.

Western government leaders like the people in the world to believe that they put human rights above state rights. People in the third world country need to know what the western government leaders really mean is that the human rights of their citizens are above the state rights of the third world countries only. When it comes to the sovereignty of the western nations, of course their sovereignty is always above the human rights of the people in the third world countries. What happened to Iraqi people, and what is happening to the Afghan people and Pakistan people now are powerful examples of just how little western leaders value their human rights rhetoric.

I applaud the Chinese government’s current resolve to uphold its law. With China’s military capability, western nations can no longer threaten China’s security as they used to. I hope that China will continue to build up its military capability to a height that it can not only secure the human rights of its own people, but also secure the human rights of other third world countries. I hope that someday China will be powerful enough not only to say no to the bullying of western countries in regard to China’s state rights and Chinese people’s rights, but also protect both the state and human rights of other third world countries against the bullies of this world.

The author is a Professor of History and Political Science at Warren Wilson College, NC.