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

Photo - edureduration

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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