Naw Kham is the leader of a drug trafficking group suspected of a massacre of Chinese citizens who had been eluding Chinese authorities for a long time. Working with Laotian authorities, the Chinese authorities captured him when he went to that country, took him back to China, and he is now standing trial. What is interesting is that the Chinese government refrained from using drones to pursue him into the jungles of Myanmar and Laos and kill him even though they had intelligence pinpointing his location. They say that this was because they wanted to capture him alive and bring him to trial and also because of concerns that such an action would violate international law.
How quaint the Chinese are, worrying about silly things like international law and trials and the like. Don’t they realize that if they want to become a superpower like the US, they should claim the unilateral right to kill anyone anywhere that they perceive as an enemy, using drones and whatever other means they have at their disposal?
But as Glenn Greenwald says, even this restraint on the part of the Chinese leadership is being portrayed in the US media as something for the US to worry about.
Indeed, in reporting on this episode, the New York Times twice tried to depict it as proof of the growing Chinese menace. In February, it said that the mere possibility that China would use a drone strike “highlights China’s increasing advances in unmanned aerial warfare, a technology dominated by the United States and used widely by the Obama administration for the targeted killing of terrorists” (by “terrorists”, the Times means: people accused of being terrorists by the US government with no due process). Then this morning, the Times claims that China’s apprehension of Naw Kham in cooperation with other governments shows, as the headline put it, that “Beijing Flaunts Cross-Border Clout in Search for Drug Lord” and that “the capture shows how China’s law enforcement tentacles reach far beyond its borders into a region now drawn by investment and trade into China’s orbit, and where the United States’ influence is being challenged.”
So even when China refuses to use weapons the US routinely uses, by citing precepts of international law, respect for the sovereignty of neighboring countries and at least the pretense of due process, this shows that China is a growing threat to US interests in the region. At some point, either China or Russia or someone else is going to start drone-killing people in other countries, and the only thing certain to happen is that US political and media circles will erupt with condemnation without the slightest sense of irony or shame (provided that it’s done by a government that is not a US client). The fact that China’s restraint is depicted in US media circles as evidence of the growing threat it poses highlights the mindset that drives this.
It may well be that the Chinese do not really care about international law and due process but are seizing on these opportunities to show up the hollowness of US claims to be a law-abiding nation. If so, they are succeeding.