On January 31 2010, Xiao Zhen, a 24 year-old Chinese man, hailed a cab in Auckland, New Zealand. He got in, and started making small talk with the driver. The conversation steered towards the subject of Asians working in restaurants, and eventually degenerated into a heated argument. Xiao Zhen asked to get out and refused to pay, which led to a short scuffle between the two men. In the heat of the moment, Zhen pulled out a knife in an attempt to slash the driver's hand and run out, but ended up instead stabbing him to death.
Upon learning of the driver's death the next morning, Zhen fled New Zealand, where he'd been living for a few years, and returned to China. After four months in Shanghai, during which he did not speak a word to his family about the murder, he was finally arrested.
As China and New Zealand did not have any extradition treaty, a deal had to be brokered between the two countries as to where and how Xiao Zhen was going to be tried. The agreement that was eventually worked out was to try Zhen in China while agreeing to certain stipulations from New Zealand authorities, namely that of withholding capital punishment. Last week, a verdict was finally reached: Xiao Zhen was sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment.
The sentence, which was satisfactory to New Zealand police, proved to be the very first case of a murder occurring abroad being tried in China.
In a country many see as isolated politically, socially and judicially from the rest of the world, this is a rare, yet shining example that international cooperation and rational compromise is indeed possible, and can indeed transcend the tensions and strains of international political discourse.
The case comes less than a month after Canada chose to deport Lai Changxing back to China. Lai fled China in the 1990s after being accused of running a multi-billion smuggling operation in the city of Xiamen, Fujian. The Canadian court exemplified their trust in the Chinese judicial system with the verdict of extraditing him back. Indeed, an unfair trial or a capital punishment for Lai upon his return would have strained Sina-Canadian relations and would have discouraged the international scene from cooperating with China on judicial cases.
Of course, all is not rose, and doubts remain. Less than two years ago, a 53 year-old Briton by the name of Akmal Shaik was executed. The man had been caught in September of 2007 in Urumqi smuggling over 4,000 grams of heroin on him. The Criminal Law in China stipulates that anyone caught smuggling over 50 grams of heroin is punishable by death. Despite the numerous pleas for clemency from Great Britain and the human rights organizations, Akmal was executed in 2009. It was the first execution of a EU citizen in the country in over 50 years. Four more were executed since, one Japanese and three Filipinos, for illegal drug trafficking.
Nevertheless, one thing is also clear: the death penalty in China shows signs of abating. There is no congenital ill will in China, or nebulous intent in the dealings and handlings of crime when it comes to foreigners in China or Chinese perpetrators abroad. The case of Xiao Zhen is a clear illustration of that. It demonstrates that not only is China capable and willing of bringing impartial justice to foreigners and Chinese alike, it also confirms the hope of a relaxing of the death penalty in the country.
The author is an American currently living and working in Beijing.
Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of China.org.cn