Sunday, June 26, 2011

Ai Weiwei, Hu jia release illustrate switch in China's EU relations

China Premier Wen Jiabao deliver the Report on...Image via Wikipedia
Premier Wen Jiabao
The release of two famous dissidents in China, Ai Weiwei and Hu Jia, comes - with all their restrictions - at a telling moment: premier Wen Jiabao's visit to Europe. While it remains difficult to connect such diverse events in Chinese politics very clearly, they do not happen without reason. In this case they might illustrate that China is emphasizing its EU relations over those with the US.

During my time as a foreign correspondent in China those high-profile releases seemed to happen more often. I do not have any statistics, but compared to the late 1990s, early this century, there simply seemed to be now less high-profile dissents that could be released. Since I was based in Shanghai, I did not close check the ongoing stream of foreign visitors to Beijing, but I knew that when high-profile dissidents would be released, high-place US visitors were due.

It was often even worse: most of these dissidents were rounded up in the weeks before those US visits to China, as if forces in China were looking for bargaining power ahead of such visits. I knew that when dissents were rounded up, I should look up the itinerary of US dignitaries. It was never hundred percent sure, who would be behind those arrests. Foreign media often blamed 'China' or the central government, but it was as likely a moment for rogue security forces to embarrass their central leadership in an effort to improve their own bargaining position towards the central government.

One thing was sure: this routine never happened when European leaders visited Beijing.

That routine was disrupted as the Hu Jintao crew took over from Jiang Zemin. Only the release of Ai Weiwei and Hu Jia brought back the memories about that practice, from a decade ago. While we will probably never know what is really going on behind the Chinese curtains, it is important to note that Wen Jiabao's visit to Europe triggered this off. Chinese support for the Euro and increased investments into Europe are other elements in this global changed from the US towards Europe.
(Earlier published in the Fons Tuinstra's home).
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