Thursday, 7 April 2011

Parting Shot

US Ambassador Jon Huntsman making his speech in Shanghai

Now there are reports that Ai Weiwei is suspected of committing economic crimes... that can mean everything from not paying his taxes to not getting proper business licenses.

Today Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei finally confirmed 53-year-old Ai was taken into custody on Sunday.

"Ai Weiwei is under investigation on suspicion of economic crimes," Hong said. "It has nothing to do with human rights or freedom of expression," he added. This is the first time an official has commented on the case.

Hong added other countries have no right to interfere in the case.

In his farewell speech in Shanghai, American Ambassador Jon Huntsman took the opportunity to not only talk about China-US relations, but also to criticize China on its human rights record:

It should come as no surprise, for example, that the United States will continue to champion respect for universal human rights, which is a fundamental extension of the American experience and a bedrock of our world view.

Long after I depart Beijing, future Ambassadors will continue to visit American citizens like Dr Feng Xue, who was wrongfully convicted of stealing state secrets and is now serving an eight-year sentence in prison far from his family in the United States. They will continue to speak up in defense of social activists, like Liu Xiaobo, Chen Guangcheng and now Ai Weiwei, who challenge the Chinese government to serve the public in all cases and at all times.

The United States will never stop supporting human rights because we believe in the fundamental struggle for human dignity and justice wherever it may occur. We do so not because we oppose China but, on the contrary, because we value our relationship. President Hu and Premier Wen have both acknowledged the universality of human rights. By speaking out candidly, we hope eventually to narrow and bridge this critical gap and move our relationship forward.

It's interesting to note other than a US state department spokesman, Huntsman is the only highest American official to date to speak out about Ai's situation -- President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have remained strangely silent. Which is probably why Huntsman, a possible candidate for the 2012 elections decided to take a stand.

Nevertheless, the world needs to continue to speak out for Ai and all the people who have been "disappeared" by the police, threatened, beaten up and detained all illegally. These people and many others have been trying to establish a civil society, which the government feels threatens its legitimacy.

These victims are the canaries in the coalmine -- they are trying to tell us what is really going on in China. When they are all gone we will never know what will happen next.

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