When police raided a Beijing bar last month, as part of China’s newly declared war on drugs, they didn’t arrive with sniffer dogs, just hundreds of small plastic bottles. As the exits were blocked, patrons at Dos Kolegas were required to identify themselves, then file into the toilets, leaving the door open. A urine sample was taken and immediately tested for the presence of marijuana.
The ABC’s China correspondent, Stephen McDonell, was there that night and said at least four foreigners were detained in the raid. All were subsequently deported after spending two weeks in detention.
This aggressive new approach from Chinese authorities, after years of turning a blind eye to recreational drug use, is part of the reason the Australian government altered its travel advice for China on Thursday.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade reminded travellers that the “use and possession of ‘soft’ drugs is illegal and the laws are strictly enforced”.
“Australians in China should understand the serious penalties for drug offences and comply with the local laws in full,” the advice said. What the advice didn’t say was that those who use drugs outside the country are also at risk when they enter China.
As the raid on Dos Kolegas showed, police are not only looking for those possessing or selling drugs, but anyone who has used drugs recently.
For marijuana, the time period could be as long as three months, according to the website of Britain’s National Health Service. Whether the drug was legal in the jurisdiction where it was used is irrelevant, nor are you permitted have a second sample independently tested.
There is also no appeals process and anyone deported is unlikely to be issued a visa in the near future – a major problem for those with business interests in China. The changing of the Australian government’s travel advice suggests it believes China’s war on drugs will continue for some time.
As well as Westerners on a night out in Beijing, the crackdown has resulted in the detention of Taiwanese actor Kai Ko Chen-tung and Jackie Chan’s son, Jaycee. Mr Ko, who is well-known on the mainland after a number of hit movies, was released after two weeks in detention, but Mr Chan faces far longer behind bars as 100 grams of marijuana was found in his apartment.
All told, 7800 people have been caught in the crackdown, according to local media reports.
The crackdown is also directed at those trafficking drugs from China. In its updated travel advice, the government said a number of foreigners had been arrested for drug trafficking this year in the southern cities of Guang*zhou and Hong Kong. “Foreigners have been executed for drug offences in recent months,” the advice said. Government sources then told media outlets that a number of Australians were among those arrested and could face the death penalty.
“They are serious cases and we are not taking them lightly,” the government sources said, while declining to specify the number of Australians involved. The source said it was “conceivable” the Australians arrested could face the death penalty, but their cases were still making their way through the judicial process.
China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson, Hua Chunying, was far more direct during a press briefing on Thursday.
“According to my understanding, several Australians who are guilty of drug trafficking are detained in China, and [their] relevant cases are being processed in accordance with law,” she said. “China’s judicial authorities treat all drug traffickers of different nationalities in China in an equal way and execute punishment according to law.”
ANGUS GRIGG AFR correspondent
Photo: Dave Tacon
The Australian Financial Review PUBLISHED: 12 SEP 2014
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