Dear John: What “public pressure” did our Society exert in the international effort to free Ai Weiwei?

By Peter Foster, June 22nd, 2011

So, Ai Weiwei is released on bail in what appears to be a face-saving compromise for Chinese authorities. This is obviously great news for his family who have been desperately worried about his health and well-being over the last 81 days.

This case is not over yet, but Ai’s release is, for my money, a reminder that when intense international public pressure is brought to bear on China, it can have a positive effect.

“Without the wave of international support for Ai, and the popular expressions of dismay and disgust about the circumstances of his disappearance, it’s highly unlikely the Chinese government would have released him,” said Phelim Kine, of Human Rights Watch.

I think that is a correct assessment. This is not to say that China can be easily hectored or bullied, but those who argue that highlighting egregious cases like Ai Weiwei’s is “counter-productive” (that’s usually code for “inconvenient”) have seen that argument weakened tonight….

Only by keeping up the pressure on these issues, only by not kow-towing or showing fear, as we have too often in the recent past, will we encourage China to make the calculation that keeping people like Ai Weiwei in jail is probably more trouble than it’s worth.

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The public statement
of John Fahey, Chairman & CEO of the National Geographic Society,
on China’s detainment of Ai Weiwei:


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