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On Sunday, the internationally renowned Chinese artist Ai Weiwei sat down with his wife Lu Qing at an unknown location for the first time since his arrest more than 40 days ago. His wife described the meeting as tense and inhibited and told correspondents from the BBC that their unification was watched by several other people, some taking notes, and she was told not to ask too many questions and mainly talk about family and health. Mr Ai, who suffers from high blood pressure and diabetes, ensured his wife that he was being taken care of and was in good health.
The artist was detained at Beijing’s airport on his way to Hong Kong last month and has remained incommunicado ever since. He is allegedly being held under investigation for suspected “economic crimes” according to the BBC but his detention has come amid a nationwide crackdown on political dissidents following the revolts in the Middle East. Mr Ai is well known as a vocal critic of the Chinese government and has championed social activism since the earthquake in the Sichuan province, 2008. His work has delivered recurring provocations against the government which is why the greater question seems why he wasn’t detained before.
Calls for information and his release had so far led to a dead end as China’s foreign ministry has insisted, according to a BBC report, that Mr. Ai’s case has “nothing to do with human rights or freedom of expression.”
One of Mr Ai’s friends, the lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan, met with Lu on Monday and determined that the artist is most likely being held under residential surveillance within the capital. According to Chinese law, a suspect can be held in this type of detention for up to six months before a decision is made on the case, a research manager from the human rights group Dui Hua Foundation explained to the Washington Post. But in most cases, the law is used to legitimize a ‘blackout’ of the whereabouts of a suspect outside the regular detention facilities where a case must be processed within 30 days.
The American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and EU officials have respectfully criticized Beijing for ‘backsliding’ on human rights – but where is the outrage?
In an online column for The Telegraph, one of Britain’s best known politicians Boris Johnson, mayor of London, raises this significant point: “Where are the candlelit vigils, the rallies for Ai Weiwei? Where are the newspaper campaigns and petitions, the why-oh-why-oh-weiweis?”
His own answer? The West has acquired an unflattering habit of tip-toeing around the Chinese government, afraid that with China slowly overtaking America as a ruling economy, any critical assessment of China’s flagrant disregard for human rights towards its own public could turn up a financial checkmate. “I had forgotten that this is the Chinese Year of the Rabbit. What we are hearing is the silence of the rabbits — and all the global rabbits are hoping that if they keep still and say nothing, they will be rewarded with nice, big, crispy wodges of Chinese lettuce.”
Madame Fu Ying, the former Chinese ambassador to London, has said that any “fuss” about Ai Weiwei’s detention by Western media is “condescending”. In response, Johnson argues that China’s free reign to behave in ways found unacceptable by the rest of the world should be regarded as even more “condescending.” Why does the governments of this world continue to allow China to export their economic superiority and culture while import is limited to raw material and currency? Why do those with the greatest power to foster freedom of existence in the Chinese society deliberately gag themselves when the chance arrises to speak up on relevant problematics?
The West rightfully opened its arms to the potential of the largest population on this planet, no question about that, but in its excitement (and greed), something seems to have been lost in translation: This is not the West, individual freedom is not a right and no matter how famous you are, the rule of the state is absolute. Admittedly, Mr Ai has been given an unusually great amount of leeway but that should only add to the cause – If this is really about taxes, he should be tried as others would in the same situation. And as far as Western leaders are concerned, they should stop hiding in the bushes and stand up for their supposed principles in the face of the Chinese dragon.
Image provided by espaciovirtual