Chinese Manhunt Shows Sway, or Softness

At The New York Times, Jane Perlez and Bree Feng revisit the international hunt for drug lord Naw Kham, who was executed in March for the 2011 murders of 13 Chinese sailors on the Mekong river.

For China, the arrest was a substantial victory, said Paul Chambers, director of research at the Institute of South East Asian Affairs at Chiang Mai University in Thailand, and an author of the book “Cashing In Across the Golden Triangle.”

“The capture of Naw Kham sends a message that no group or state is going to be allowed to mess around with China on the Mekong River,” Mr. Chambers said. “Everyone now knows the top dog on the Mekong is China.”

In some ways, China’s operation to scoop up the drug lord echoed Gen. John J. Pershing’s endeavor to capture Pancho Villa, the Mexican revolutionary leader who in 1916 killed 18 Americans in New Mexico, Mr. Chambers said.

[…] But there were two distinctions.

“No. 1, the Chinese caught Naw Kham,” Mr. Chambers said, alluding to Pancho Villa’s skill in dodging General Pershing’s army. “And No. 2, for smart diplomacy, they gave the credit to Laos.”

The article also notes the suspected involvement of elite Thai soldiers in the Mekong killings, and explains China’s decision not to use a drone strike against Naw Kham, which anti-narcotics chief Liu Yuejin says boiled down to legal restraints and sovereignty issues. At The Guardian, Glenn Greenwald sarcastically blasted Chinese “softness” in bending to these concerns, and criticized the tone of the Times’ coverage:

What kind of weak, soft, overly legalistic government worries about trivial concerns like international law and “sovereignty issues” when it comes to drone-killing heinous murderers for whom capture is difficult? Why not just shoot Hellfire missiles wherever you think he might be hiding in weaker countries and kill him and anyone who happens to be near him? Or if you are able to find him, at least just riddle his skull with bullets, dump his corpse into the ocean, and then chant nationalistic slogans in the street and at your political conventions. Who would ever want to give a trial to such a heinous and savage foreign killer of your citizens, particularly if it means risking the lives of your soldiers to apprehend him?

[…] In contrast to the strong and just US – which not only boldly drone-kills whomever and wherever it wants without regard to irritating trivialities like sovereignty but even tried (unsuccessfully) to pressure the Afghan government to execute its accused “drug lords” with no trials – the weak and soft Chinese are actually celebrating their own impotence. As the New York Times put it in February: “‘We didn’t use China’s military, and we didn’t harm a single foreign citizen,’ Mr. Liu bragged after the arrest in April 2012.” Note the word “brag”: the Times has to infuse something negative into the success of the Chinese in avoiding killing foreign civilians and relying on law enforcement processes rather than military strikes to apprehend an elusive killer.