CANBERRA • An Australian man’s death sentence by a Chinese court for drug smuggling should not necessarily be seen as retaliation over tensions between the two nations, according to Trade and Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham.
The Guangzhou Intermediate People’s Court announced the sentencing of Cam Gillespie last Saturday, Australian Associated Press reported. He was arrested with more than 7.5kg of methamphetamine in his check-in bag in 2013 while trying to board an international flight from Baiyun Airport in Guangzhou, it said.
The sentencing comes amid increasing signs of a widening rift between the key trading partners after Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison led calls for an independent probe into the origins of Covid-19. Beijing responded with verbal attacks, accusing Australia of doing the bidding of the United States.
Tariffs on Australian barley and a ban on beef from four meat producers have raised concerns in Canberra that China is retaliating with “economic coercion”.
Australia condemns the use of the death penalty and would continue to provide consular assistance and make representations on behalf of Gillespie, Mr Birmingham said yesterday in a television interview with Sky News.
Asked whether the sentence was retaliation over bilateral tensions, Mr Birmingham said: “We shouldn’t necessarily view it as such.”
China has made extensive use of the death penalty and carried out sentences on citizens from the Philippines, Japan and other parts of the world, he said.
Mr Birmingham reiterated his desire to visit China for talks when appropriate and said Australia was continuing to make representations at an official and diplomatic level on a range of issues.