Ai Weiwei, one of the world’s most prominent artists and activists, has spent his career bringing light to human rights violations carried out by the Chinese government. In 2011, he was arrested in an ongoing government crackdown on critics while boarding a flight from Beijing to Hong Kong. He has since been closely monitored by Chinese security and has had two studios — one in Shanghai in 2011, the other in Beijing just last year — demolished by the government.
Today, January 30, the outspoken artist released a statement calling out the detention of a Canadian diplomat and businessman in what seems to be a political bargaining strategy amidst rising tension between Canada and China. Ai call the arrests “unsurprising,” saying, “Domestically, the disappearances and forced detentions without due process are common.”
On December 1, Canadian police arrested Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei, a Chinese information and communications technology manufacturer, on an extradition request from the United States. On Monday, January 28, the US indicted Meng and Huawei, saying they dodged US sanctions and stole trade secrets from T-Mobile — allegations which the company and Meng deny. Meng is accused of fraud, having allegedly conspired to deliberately mislead several banks between 2009 and 2014.
Soon after, Donald Trump said he would intervene in the Justice Department’s case “if it would serve national security interests or help close a trade deal with China,” according to Reuters. Assistant Attorney General John Demers and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo quickly denied this possibility, saying the case against Meng has been unfolding prior to Trump’s election.
Two days after their threat of consequences, Chinese officials detained two Canadian citizens — a Canadian diplomat currently working for the International Crisis Group, and a Canadian businessman — on charges of endangering China’s national security.
In a statement released by the Gardiner Museum in Toronto, Canada, where Ai Weiwei will soon open the exhibition Ai Weiwei: Unbroken, the artist expressed his disturbance with the West’s “complicity in creating this monstrous regime [China],” calling them a “willing partner” in the growth of the authoritarian state. The museum says the exhibition, opening February 28, takes on a “new significance” amid the international distress.
Read Ai Weiwei’s statement, in full, below:
The Chinese government’s recent actions are unsurprising. They have been acting in their own way, with their own set of ideologies and practices, for the past 70 years.
Domestically, the disappearances and forced detentions without due process are common. I would be surprised if that was not the case every time considering China does not have an independent judicial system. There are no clear laws, only interpretations of the law based on the Party’s interests. China is not a nation under rule of law. China is a nation under rule of the Party.
Today, China is the second biggest economic power in the world, only behind the United States of America. Though China has quickly developed, the West has also greatly benefited from this partnership through the exploitation of many Chinese basic rights in terms of labor, environmental damage, corruption, among other such issues.
The West has pretended to not notice or, more insidiously, has been a willing partner. They are the hidden force behind China’s rise. And while China has become an ever more powerful machine, it still has not changed its authoritarian tendencies.
The argument often repeated in the West is that strong economic growth in repressive states inevitably lead to the embrace of human rights and democracy. An understanding of the history of dictatorships tells us that this is not a credible assumption. Dictators have never voluntarily relinquished power and control. Change has always come abruptly, either through revolution or another equally disastrous event. There is no precedence for this kind of gradual shift and the West understands this well.
China has been the perfect dream of the West. Under the banner of globalization, China has been able to do everything that the West could not and have been instrumental in helping the democratic states become what they are today. The West’s apparent conflict with the situation in China is because of its refusal to acknowledge its complicity in creating this monstrous regime.
In the end, nothing will change. China completely ignores so-called universal values. It is under the control of a one-party system where its citizens have never had the right to vote. And without voting rights, there is no responsibility or trust in society. There is no independent press or media. What can you expect? I think that China has done quite well under those circumstances. The real problem comes from the West where there is a complete lack of vision and responsibility, only an interest in profiting from the status quo.
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