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China looks to maintain control over trade route
Publication Date : 06-03-2013
China has executed Golden Triangle warlord Nor Kham and three accomplices after they were convicted of murdering 13 Chinese sailors on the Mekong River in October 2011.
Thai Hsang Kham, Lao Zha Xika and Yi Lai, who was stateless, were executed along with Nor Kham after the nation's highest court approved their death sentences.
Nor Kham and his gang were found guilty of attacking two Chinese cargo ships in collusion with Thai soldiers while they kidnapped other Chinese sailors and held their ships for ransom earlier in 2011, the court found.
The nature of the executions - lethal injection - was supposed to show that China's justice system is humane and in line with modern, international standards.
There were also reports that the convicts were permitted to see their relatives prior to their execution.
But what caught international attention, especially among people in Thailand, was the fact that the Chinese authorities had permitted state media to film and photograph Nor Kham during his transfer from a detention centre to the place of execution. China Central Television showed the police removing Nor Kham's handcuffs and binding his arms behind his back with rope, a standard procedure before executions there.
In a way, the Chinese authorities, by permitting the broadcast, were sending a message to the lawless warlords in the Golden Triangle area, telling them that this is what awaits them should they ever attack Chinese cargo boats or citizens again. Let this be a lesson.
In the view of Thai officials monitoring activities along the Mekong River - in the sector that links Thailand to China - the 2011 killings were a major setback to China's hopes to use the waterway to improve communications with mainland Southeast Asia. The fact that its cargo ships could be robbed and boat crews murdered in such a manner would not only deter future trade but also weaken China's international clout, especially in this region.
At his appeal hearing in December, Nor Kham was quoted as saying he "neither plotted nor ordered the murder" of the sailors and only heard about the attack later. During his trial he accused Thai soldiers of being solely responsible for the attack.
Few in the Thai government want to talk about the allegation that its soldiers - nine of whom were commissioned officers - had colluded with Nor Kham in killing the Chinese boat crew. A Chiang Rai court ruled that the Chinese crew was killed with weapons issued to soldiers. Nine soldiers have been charged, including two commissioned officers.
Chinese authorities didn't bother keeping Nor Kham alive until they got to the bottom of the case, and the investigation still has a long way to go. Besides the alleged role of the Thai soldiers, there is also the 57-year-old Thai man, Jamras Sompongpan, who is suspected of colluding with Nor Kham and the Thai soldiers. Jamras was convicted in 1983 of heroin trafficking.
There is an old saying in Thailand: "Kill the chicken to scare the monkey." In this case, Nor Kham is the chicken, while the monkey could very well represent the accused Thais.
How the next phase of this criminal investigation unfolds could set a precedent as to how China deals with its southern neighbours. Executing Nor Kham and his gang might not be enough.
A decade ago, when Chinese engineers were blasting rocks in the Mekong River to make way for their cargo boats heading to northern Thailand, everyone ignored the lawlessness along the river, especially in the Myanmar sector of the Golden Triangle, where opium warlords play for keeps. Unfortunately, they had to wait until the murder of the 13 Chinese sailors before they realised that this trade route was all about winning by any means possible.