Ai Weiwei’s Berlin Welcome Marred by Accusations of Playing Down China’s Human Rights Violations

Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei upon his arrival at Munich Airport on July 30, 2015 in Munich, Germany. This is his first trip abroad since Chinese authorities put him under house arrest in 2011 and confiscated his passport without charging him with any crime. They recently returned his passport, enabling Ai Weiwei to travel to see his son, who lives in Berlin. His 6-month UK visa application, however, has been rejected because the artist failed to mention any convictions, although he has been granted a 20-day visa to attend the opening of his show in London in September. Photo by Joerg Koch/Getty Images.

Dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei was officially welcomed by the Mayor of Berlin, Michael Müller, at the German capital’s City Hall last Thursday.

After making a red carpet entrance to the official reception, the artist took an obligatory selfie with the Mayor before signing the city’s official guest book. In a thoughtful gesture the Mayor presented Ai with a replica shirt from Berlin’s soccer team Hertha BSC for his young son.

After exchanging pleasantries, Ai followed the Mayor to his office for a private meeting, which lasted over an hour.

Ai snaps a selfie with Berlin's Mayor Michael Müller. Photo: @aiww via Instagram

Ai snaps a selfie with Berlin’s Mayor Michael Müller.
Photo: @aiww via Instagram

In an unusual move, the outspoken artist declined to speak to the assembled press. Berliner Morgenpost reported that City Hall officials said he explicitly requested not to make a statement.

No word on his upcoming guest professorship at Berlin’s University of the Arts, the UDK, or whether he was preparing an exhibition during his stay.

Ai’s silence has led some commentators to speculate that contrary to the 57-year-old’s recent statements to German media, his relationship towards the Chinese government may be more delicate than previously thought. The lack of open criticism against his home country could be a deliberate strategy to avoid confrontation.

The artist's refusal to speak to the press has resulted in speculation over Ai's relationship to the Chinese authorities. Photo: @aiww via Instagram

The artist’s refusal to speak to the press has resulted in speculation over Ai’s relationship to Chinese authorities.
Photo: @aiww via Instagram

These speculation follow an interview with German magazine Die Zeit, in which the artist was quoted with statements that played down the Chinese government’s human rights violations, purportedly saying that “If you look at the bigger picture, any country or political system has to preserve its stability. Arresting a few people is not a big deal.”

The statement was harshly criticized by fellow dissidents. On his Twitter account Ai reacted angrily and maintains that he was deliberately misquoted.

Related stories:

Chinese Authorities Return Passport to Ai Weiwei after 4 Years

Is Ai Weiwei Moving to Berlin?


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