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Geopolitics

It’s About Time China Learned Critical Dialogue

Op-Ed: If China indeed wants to be a protagonist on the world stage, it can no longer ignore human rights issues. A good place to start would be the case of artist Ai Weiwei, whose recent release from jail had everything to do with Chinese Premier Wen Jia

An April 17 protest in New York City againt China's decision to detain Ai Weiwei
An April 17 protest in New York City againt China's decision to detain Ai Weiwei
Thomas Schmid

It's always good when someone who has been unjustly detained, such as Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, is released. Chinese authorities held him in an unknown place for nearly three months, at first silently and with no reasons given, then on the flimsy pretext that he was suspected of financial crimes.

But if Weiwei is now out on bail (and forbidden to leave Beijing for a year), it is not because the Chinese leadership has suddenly developed some insight or is signaling the way to a more lenient approach. In fact, the motive for Weiwei's release is so clear, and so embarrassingly stereotypical, that one hardly dares mention it: it is so that Premier Wen Jiabao's forthcoming visit to Hungary, the UK and Germany will not be cluttered up by questions and concerns about one lone and cumbersome individual. In its transparency, the move is more than merely basic; it's primitive.

There are a number of reasons why the German government should make the Weiwei case a discussion point when Wen visits Germany. The first is that the Chinese have a very elastic approach to their own laws even as they appear to hold them in very high regard. They should be invited in no uncertain terms to look at the contradictions inherent in that stance.

Secondly, the case should be addressed because it's far from the only one example of repression in China, where people who offend the regime are taken out of circulation and refused the normalcy of getting on with their lives.

Big, proud China, so often and regrettably lacking in self-awareness, is going to have to learn how to deal not only with legal systems but with human rights. Mastering the art of dialogue is essential to anyone who wants to be a major player on the world stage today.

Of course, it's going to take some time to get there. China is a country of explosive growth that is having a hard time matching the pace of its social development to that of its economic development. As Ai Weiwei himself once observed: "the Chinese society serves the powerful and successful—it has very little empathy for the weak." Having experienced this more than once, he knows whereof he speaks. If he were allowed to speak openly, that is. As he told visitors who came to see him after his release: "I'm not allowed to speak."

Every voice, no matter how "weak," counts. Everybody has the right to speak out, to speak openly, to be heard. We need to remind Mr. Wen of that when he comes calling.

Read the original article in German

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Green Or Gone

Tracking The Asian Fishing "Armada" That Sucks Up Tons Of Seafood Off Argentina's Coast

A brightly-lit flotilla of fishing ships has reappeared in international waters off the southern coast of Argentina as it has annually in recent years for an "industrial harvest" of thousands of tons of fish and shellfish.

Photo of dozens of crab traps

An estimated 500 boats gather annually off the coast of Patagonia

Claudio Andrade

BUENOS AIRES — The 'floating city' of industrial fishing boats has returned, lighting up a long stretch of the South Pacific.

Recently visible off the coast of southern Argentina, aerial photographs showed the well-lit armada of some 500 vessels, parked 201 miles offshore from Comodoro Rivadavia in the province of Chubut. The fleet had arrived for its vast seasonal haul of sea 'products,' confirming its annual return to harvest squid, cod and shellfish on a scale that activists have called an environmental blitzkrieg.

In principle the ships are fishing just outside Argentina's exclusive Economic Zone, though it's widely known that this kind of apparent "industrial harvest" does not respect the territorial line, entering Argentine waters for one reason or another.

For some years now, activists and organizations like Greenpeace have repeatedly denounced industrial-style fishing as exhausting marine resources worldwide and badly affecting regional fauna, even if the fishing outfits technically manage to evade any crackdown by staying in or near international waters.

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