Ai Weiwei weighs in on Canada’s diplomatic spat with China

The dissident Chinese artist calls western governments "the hidden force behind China's rise" as relations between the two countries continue to deteriorate


Artist Ai Weiwei has slammed western governments for enabling China’s “authoritarian tendencies” as a diplomatic row between China and Canada continues to damage relations between the two countries.

China’s most famous dissident, who was arrested in 2011 and held incommunicado for 81 days, released a statement via the Gardiner Museum’s website on Wednesday, January 30, in which he criticized both the Chinese government’s policies of forced detentions and the west for continually turning a blind eye.

“Domestically, the disappearances and forced detentions without due process are common,” he said. “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.

“The west has pretended to not notice or, more insidiously, has been a willing partner,” he continued. “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.”

Ai’s statement follows two months of tensions between Canada and China stemming from the extradition case of Meng Wanzhou. Canadian authorities arrested the Huawei executive on December 1 in Vancouver at the request of the United States, which has accused her of stealing trade secrets and violating U.S. sanctions against Iran.

The Chinese government subsequently detained two Canadian citizens on national security grounds and ordered a retrial of a Canadian man convicted of drug smuggling and sentenced him to death.

Last week, the spat resulted in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau firing Canada’s ambassador to China, John McCallum, after he repeatedly made statements to reporters that broke from the Liberal government’s official stance.

Ai’s statement avoids referencing the extradition case, but broadly addresses how globalization policies that wrongly equate economic growth with democracy in repressive countries helped strengthen China without holding it to account on human rights issues.

“The west’s apparent conflict with the situation in China is because of its refusal to acknowledge its complicity in creating this monstrous regime,” he wrote. “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.”

Ai Weiwei’s statement comes ahead of Ai Weiwei: Unbroken, his first ceramics-focused exhibition and his first Canadian show in six years, which opens February 28 at the Gardiner Museum.

Read his full statement 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 labour, 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.”

@kevinritchie

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