China artist chastises West for valuing trade over rights

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, 53, was put under house arrest at the weekend.

Last Updated: Nov 08, 2010, 13:08 PM IST

Beijing: Chinese artist Ai Weiwei on Monday chided Western leaders for putting trade relationships with Beijing ahead of their commitment to human rights, on the eve of a visit by Britain`s prime minister.

Ai, 53, one of China`s most famous and controversial artists, was put under house arrest at the weekend as police prevented him from attending an event at his new Shanghai studio which is set for demolition.

He also is an outspoken critic of the country`s Communist rulers and urged British Prime Minister David Cameron not to mince words with the leadership in Beijing when he arrives on Tuesday for a two-day visit.

Western leaders "must insist on human rights issues, that it is inadmissible for citizens to be imprisoned because they think differently," Ai said in a telephone interview.

"We want to hear them bring up these issues, see their lips move," he said.

"I don`t know how the British prime minister will react. But in varying degrees, the American, French and German leaders betrayed the values which are most treasured by humanity."

The United States, France and Germany have led calls for the release of jailed Chinese Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo, but when officials or politicians come to China, their voices are more muted.

US President Barack Obama spoke about his belief in "universal rights" when he visited China a year ago, but activists said he did not go far enough.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy did not speak publicly about rights issues during an April visit, and President Hu Jintao`s visit to France last week resulted in more than USD 20 billion in contracts for French firms.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel`s visit to China in July saw the world`s top two exporting nations sign a series of deals reportedly worth several billion dollars. She publicly raised the issue of greater market openness -- but not rights questions.

"The Americans or Europeans that trade with China are in fact trading with a group of people who turn their backs on the most fundamental values," said Ai, who currently has an exhibition at London`s Tate Modern.

"This trade harms the interests of each ordinary citizen in China. They should keep that in mind," he said.

"If these politicians cannot manage to understand the problems at hand, they would do better not to come to China to do business."

In a commentary published in the Guardian, Ai wrote: "Cameron should say that the civilised world cannot see China as a civilised country if it doesn`t change its own behaviour."

Ai`s house arrest came amid a widespread crackdown on dissidents, lawyers and professors after Liu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last month.

While the artist was not allowed to leave his home over the weekend, others including reporters were able to visit him.

"My house arrest was supposed to last until midnight last night. In fact, the police left at about 11:00 pm," Ai said.

Ai had planned a feast for supporters at his Shanghai studio on Sunday as an ironic celebration of a decision by authorities to demolish the building -- despite having originally asked him to build it.

Supporters said on Twitter that hundreds had shown up at the studio.

Ai said the order came after he became increasingly critical of Shanghai`s policies, writing in particular about activist Feng Zhenghu, who was blocked from returning home from Japan for months.

In a telephone interview on Sunday, Ai branded the nation`s government a "dictatorship" and said the Internet would bring the current Communist regime to an end.

"This society is not efficient, it`s inhuman in many ways politically," the artist said.

"The government, the whole system... sacrifices education, environmental resources and most people`s interests just to make a few people become extremely rich only because they are associated with the government.”

"The Internet is the best gift to China -- this kind of technology will end this kind of dictatorship," he said.

Bureau Report