HONG KONG—Controversial artist Ai Weiwei has hit out at Western leaders for emphasizing trade over human rights in their ties with Beijing's ruling Communist Party, as British Prime Minister David Cameron heads to China at the head of a huge business delegation.
Ai, 53, was held under house arrest at his Beijing home at the weekend to prevent him from attending a protest at his newly built studio in Shanghai, which the authorities now say they will demolish.
Western leaders "must insist on human rights issues, that it is inadmissible for citizens to be imprisoned because they think differently," Ai said.
"We want to hear them bring up these issues, see their lips move," he said on Monday, in remarks quoted by Agence France-Presse.
Ai said in an interview with RFA's Mandarin service on Sunday that violence and coercion are no longer acceptable ways to preserve social stability for the majority of young Chinese.
"I think that today's China is no longer the China of the past," Ai said.
"We increasingly need to use reason and logic to persuade other people, rather than simply resorting to violence and police force to solve problems."
As hundreds of netizens and petitioners turned up at his studio for the protest event in Shanghai on Sunday, Ai said the younger generations would not tolerate threats and coercion from their own government.
"Today's young people won't put up with all of that ... and the more you threaten them, the more of them there will be," he said.
"It's very clear that the [government's insistence on] preserving stability has failed. They should instead step up more positive measures and start to engage in more debate, in a rational and objective manner."
Don't mince words
On Monday, Ai urged Cameron not to mince words with the leadership in Beijing when he arrives on Tuesday for a two-day visit.
"I don't know how the British prime minister will react. But in varying degrees, the American, French, and German leaders betrayed the values which are most treasured by humanity."
Ai, whose work is currently on show at London's Tate Modern gallery, had planned a feast for supporters at his Shanghai studio on Sunday as an ironic celebration of the demolition order, which came after he became increasingly critical of the Shanghai government's policies.
Hundreds of supporters had shown up at the studio regardless, including around 200 petitioners and ordinary citizens pursuing grievances and complaints against government officials.
They surrounded Ai's workshop and spilled over onto grassy areas outside the main entrance, gathering to stage wrestling matches and debates about forced evictions, and to sing the song of the "Grass Mud Horse."
Blogger and citizen journalist Zhou Shuguang, known by his online nickname "Zola," said not everyone who arrived at the meeting had the same agenda, however.
"Most people sitting at the table were petitioners," Zhou said.
"Everyone seemed to think that this should be an event organized by Twitter users, and that we should do something to dilute the atmosphere created by the petitioners."
"So we thought about what activities we could do, and we formed a circle off to one side and sang the song of the 'Grass Mud Horse.'"
The Grass Mud Horse song puns on a well-known Chinese expletive in a satirical protest against controls on freedom of expression on the Internet.
"We don't regret coming, even though [Ai Weiwei] was unable to attend," said netizen You Yuping, who was also at the event.
"We are missing our host, but the event will go ahead anyway without him."
British companies announced on Monday a slew of contracts in China worth at least U.S. $19 million, in a possible prelude to what British companies hope will be a big pay-off later this week.
They include a two-million-pound (U.S. $3.23 million) coal injection technology agreement between British firm Clyde Blowers and Yima Coal Industry Group as well as contracts worth four million pounds (U.S. $6.46 million) for architecture firm Benoy.
Trade between the two nations was worth U.S. $51.8 billion last year, with Britain exporting U.S. $12.4 billion worth of goods and services to China.
The United States, France, and Germany have led calls for the release of imprisoned Chinese Nobel Peace Prize recipient Liu Xiaobo, but when officials or politicians come to China, their voices appear more muted.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy did not speak publicly about rights issues during a visit to China in April, and President Hu Jintao's visit to France last week resulted in more than U.S. $20 billion in contracts for French firms.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel's visit to China in July saw the world's top two exporting nations sign a series of deals reportedly worth several billion dollars.
Cameron is leading a major delegation of around 50 top business leaders and four senior ministers in a bid to strengthen ties in his first official visit to China.
Reported by Xin Yu for RFA's Mandarin service and by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.