From the Wall St Journal 4-6-2011
Chinese artist Ai Weiwei posed an important question about the one-party state in this newspaper's Asian op-ed pages last year: "The question . . . is how a state based on limiting information flows and freedom of speech can remain powerful." And if that's possible, "what kind of monster" will it become?
Mr. Ai's detention Sunday at Beijing's airport as he attempted to travel to Hong Kong brings this juggernaut into sharp relief. The police have provided no information about the 53-year-old's whereabouts or explained why he was arrested. The same day, Mr. Ai's wife, nephew and a clutch of his employees were arrested and questioned. Authorities raided his Beijing studio and carted away computers and other items.
Mr. Ai has thus joined the growing ranks of China's new "disappeared." In February amid the popular Arab revolt, an online petition urged a similar Jasmine Revolution in China. The government has reacted by criminally detaining dozens, if not hundreds or thousands, of the country's most prominent human rights lawyers, bloggers, democracy activists and others.
The detention of Mr. Ai is especially notable because of his national stature. The son of a famous poet, he is a prominent artist, film-maker and architect in his own right, a popular Web communicator, and an advocate for the rule of law and individual freedoms. He is also unafraid: In 2009, when Mr. Ai tried to attend the trial of another activist, the police beat him so badly he got a brain bleed that almost killed him. He continued to speak out.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague called on the Chinese government Monday to "urgently clarify Ai's situation and well being" and called for his immediate release. Germany's Foreign Minister did the same.
The U.S. State Department managed to roll out spokesman Mark Toner, who said the U.S. government was "deeply concerned" but added "our relationship with China is very broad and complex, but it's an issue where we disagree and we continue to make clear those concerns." Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama have been mute.
Perhaps the Obama Administration should listen to Mr. Ai, whose op-ed for us included this statement: "Most discouraging to those of us who are fighting for increased freedom is the tendency for developed nations to lower the bar to please China. They make excuses not to concern themselves with violations of human rights. To espouse universal values and then blind oneself to China's active hostility to those values is irresponsible and naive."
The State Department says its top Asia official, Kurt Campbell, is set to visit Beijing Thursday to "prepare for the upcoming Strategic and Economic Dialogue." Maybe that trip should be postponed until Beijing tells the world in which dungeon it has dumped Ai Weiwei.