Just 40 years ago, as my family and I were completing a very pleasant and productive academic year in Japan, we had our first opportunity to visit China. We had been waiting to do so for more than a decade. For me, the highlight of the visit was a four-hour dinner conversation with Prime Minister Zhou Enlai.
Posts Tagged ‘ ai weiwei ’
In a global effort to attain “soft power” matching its growing economic and military prowess, China spends huge sums operating Confucius Institutes at hundreds of foreign universities and internationalising its media outlets. The goal is to promote respect for its contemporary civilisation and thereby enhance the government’s political influence and image. Yet the effects of these programmes – unlike similar efforts by democratic countries – are undermined by daily reports of not only the repression of basic freedoms by the “people’s democratic dictatorship”, but also the unfair criminal justice system that is the major instrument of this repression.
As China’s Communist Party elite prepare to select the country’s leadership for the coming decade, to what extent does concern for the rule of law affect their deliberations? Will the successor to Zhou Yongkang, the Politburo Standing Committee member who controls the legal system, favor continuing lawless repression or seek to subject both Party and government to the law on the books that is often ignored in practice?
Before his arrest, Ai Weiwei was tireless in condemning the arbitrary nature of China’s government. But his impact as an activist paled in comparison with how his April 3 disappearance into a secret Beijing police “safehouse” exposed the unfairness of the country’s criminal justice system. By detaining him on suspicion of vague “economic crimes,” China’s leaders made him an international cause celebre whose case clearly illustrated the helplessness of any individual when confronted by the untrammeled power of the state.