The British government has told China it will oppose the death penalty if anyone is convicted of murdering British businessman Neil Heywood, a British government minister said in Hong Kong yesterday.
Heywood had close ties to the family of former Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai . His suspicious death in Chongqing in November unleashed one of the biggest political scandals on the mainland in years, with Bo's top aide briefly fleeing to a US consulate and Bo being sacked and placed under investigation by the Communist Party.
Bo's wife, Gu Kailai , and a family staff member have been arrested as suspects in Heywood's murder.
'We have reminded the Chinese government that Britain has a policy of opposing the death penalty everywhere in the world, including in cases that apply to British nationals,' British Foreign Office minister Jeremy Browne said at an event at the Foreign Correspondents' Club when asked for an update on the Heywood case.
'Obviously that's not something that we can enforce because it's not our jurisdiction ... this case is in the hands of the Chinese and we are very pleased they are investigating it with the energy with which they tell us they are.'
Any decision about who to prosecute and whether they would face the death penalty was within China's jurisdiction because the incidents took place there, he said.
'The British government has both sought and received assurances from the Chinese government that every effort is being made to get to the bottom of this case and to investigate fully what happened,' Browne said.
China watcher Johnny Lau Yui-siu said: 'What Britain has told China makes it easier for China to deal with the case.'
'The advice by the British is basically in no conflict with what China has shown it wants to do so far,' Lau said.
'The Chinese authorities have separated the handling of the cases of Bo and Gu, and said Bo has only flouted Communist Party discipline, not the law.
'So far it's been a political case more than a diplomatic one, or less still, a legal one. Whether China will listen to this advice depends on what it wants eventually.'
Browne met Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor in the afternoon. He was in Hong Kong as part of an Asian tour also including Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.
Meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius will visit China on Monday for two days at the invitation of his Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi , Xinhua reported.
The announcement came after the Cambodian government detained French architect Patrick Henri Devillers last month at Beijing's request for alleged financial links to Gu. A Cambodian official said last week that Devillers would not be extradited to Beijing for now, but a Chinese judge could visit Phnom Penh to help with his questioning.
Devillers entered Bo's inner circle in Dalian in the 1990s when Bo, who was mayor of the city at the time, helped him chase up an unpaid debt. Devillers was also involved in Bo's transformation of the city.
Devillers and Gu gave the same residential address when they set up a company in 2000 in the British resort town of Bournemouth, while a property investment firm registered by Devillers in 2006 in Luxembourg listed the Beijing address of the Ang Dao Law Firm, affiliated with Gu.