According to Zhang Jun, vice-president of the Supreme People's Court of China, the Court will in future impose more suspended death sentences, and reduce the number of people it executives to ‘an extremely small number’ (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/8174306.stm). Zhang was quoted in the China Daily saying legislation would be improved to reduce the number of death sentences, and that the Supreme People's Court would tighten restrictions on the use of capital punishment. He said: ‘As it is impossible for the country to abolish capital punishment under current realities and social security conditions, it is an important effort to strictly control the application of the penalty by judicial organs.’
We have difficulty measuring the progress, because China doesn’t publish any statistics on the use of the death penalty, however. Amnesty International is reported as saying China executed 1,718 people in 2008.
I have been a frequent visitor to China for seminars and discussions on the death penalty, and my book The Abolition of the Death Penalty in International Law was published last year in a Chinese translation. Today’s report seems consistent with recent observations and statements by our friends and colleagues in China. At the first seminar I attended on capital punishment in Beijing, nearly a decade ago, our Chinese counterparts gave us cold stares when we spoke about capital punishment, and told us we were indulging in a European fetish. But more recently, we have met with general agreement on the desirability of abolishing capital punishment. The Chinese tell us it will take a little time to do this, however. So we may disagree now about how long it will take, but not about the ultimate goal. In this respect, the debate is more advanced than it is in the United States.