CHINA'S indiscriminate use of the death penalty for white collar crimes as well as crimes of violence should be cause for concern for even the most law-abiding resident of Hong Kong. If the type of crime considered to merit the death penalty is an indication of the relative value which a society places on human life, the conclusion must be that, in China, money counts for more. More so, indeed, in communist China than in Mammon-worshipping Hong Kong. A useful comparison might be made with the punishment meted out here to former banker Lorrain Osman, convicted of conspiracy to defraud Bumiputra Malaysian Finance Ltd (BMFL) of $292 million. He spent less than eight years behind bars in London and HongKong, most of it fighting extradition from Britain to face charges here. Yet the sum involved was several times greater than the $44.76 million that changed hands in what Chinese officials described this week as the biggest graft case since 1949. Britain would not have agreed to Osman's extradition in the first place, had he faced the death penalty in Hong Kong. If those executed this week had been caught in Europe, rather than in Singapore or Vietnam, it would have been far harder to bring them back to China for trial. No one would dispute that China urgently needs to root out dishonesty and corruption in the financial system and the bureaucracy. Public money, private savings and investments large and small have been put at risk as fraud and graft have been allowed to run out of control. However, the death penalty is an unreasonable and disproportionate punishment for white collar crimes. This summer's crackdown was long overdue. It must now be pursued systematically and with vigour. China should seriously consider the establishment of a Hong Kong-style Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). But even that will be of limited use, unless China is prepared to commit itself to a rule of law that judges all men equally and makes no allowances for rank or influence. A few exemplary executions will have less impact than an anti-corruption drive serious enough to ensure offenders take seriously the threat of getting caught and prosecuted. Hong Kong has never imposed the death penalty for white collar crimes and has recently abolished it for murder. Yet because of the rule of law and the establishment of the ICAC, the territory has been able to clean up its once notoriously corrupt police, civil service and private sector without it. China could usefully learn from our example.