Ai Weiwei warns China is ‘greatest challenge the West has ever faced’

Artist Ai Weiwei speaks to the media after visiting WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at HMP Belmarsh, in London.
Artist Ai Weiwei speaks to the media after visiting WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at HMP Belmarsh, in London.

Artist Ai Weiwei has said “China represents the greatest challenge the West has ever faced” and called for governments to act with urgency.

The Chinese artist, who is now based in the UK, spoke during a parliamentary event to mark the 180th anniversary of the founding of modern Hong Kong.

Hosted by Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael on behalf of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong, the webinar was organised to mark the release of Weiwei’s latest documentary Cockroach, about the anti-government protests that swept Hong Kong in 2019.

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Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael (Yui Mok/PA)

The 63-year-old said “the outcome of Hong Kong will be sad and hopeless”.

He added: “This is not just a struggle between Hong Kong and China. It is a struggle between freedom and a sectarian state. Hong Kong represents a value we should all protect.”

The multidisciplinary artist, famous for his installation of 100 million “sunflower seeds” at Tate Modern, said many countries were hesitant to stand with Hong Kong because they did business with China.

He said: “Let’s see what will happen when there’s no voice for places like Hong Kong.

“Then the world will be dominated by China’s sectarian control. We cannot just react, we must show that we are determined to be on the right side of history.

“Beijing has a clear strategy. It will become the ultimate and most dominant power in the world. Humanity and freedom of speech. It’s down to the West to protect them.”

The session also featured an anonymous spokesperson for the pro-democracy campaign group Stand With Hong Kong, named Sam.

He said: “The rule of law is a gift. It protects our freedom and stability. Without the rule of law, Hong Kong would not be the international city that it is today.

“After the introduction of the NSL (National Security Law), the rule of law has entirely crumbled. There is evil in a bystander.”

Mr Carmichael, vice-chair of the APPG on Hong Kong, said: “This is about human rights. The thing about human rights is that they must be universal, or they’re meaningless.

“We do have an obligation to stand with Hong Kong… Campaigning often feels like you’re pushing water up a hill until all of a sudden, change happens.”

Weiwei is an outspoken critic of China’s human rights record and left the country in 2015 before moving to Berlin and then the UK.

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