China does not give official reports on the number of executions it carries out.

Under Chinese law the death penalty is applicable to more than 60 crimes, including several non-violent and economic offences.

Three years ago China's Supreme People's Court regained the power of final approval over executions after it had been devolved to provincial high courts in the 1980s.

At the time officials promised to apply the death penalty more carefully.

China's high rate of executions was thrown into the international spotlight at the end of last year when a British citizen caught smuggling heroin was put to death.

Akmal Shaikh was executed on December 29, despite pleas for clemency from his family and the British prime minister, who said he was mentally unsound.