Swiss Interior Minister Didier Burkhalter, on a visit to China, has touched obliquely on the case of detained artist Ai Weiwei, saying “much progress” is still needed.
Speaking to a largely non-Chinese audience at the opening of a Swiss photo exhibition in Beijing on Saturday, he described “artistic freedom and the right to express ones opinions” as “important elements for cultures and civilisations as they make their way in a fast changing world,” the Swiss news agency reported.
Ai, who was famous for his unconventional attitudes, was detained at the beginning of April, and nothing is known of his fate. The Chinese authorities say he is being held for “economic crimes”.
Earlier the same day Burkhalter had opened a library designed by Swiss architect Mario Botta at the prestigious Tsinghua university.
In his address to university officials at that event he described the library of human and social sciences as an “academic cathedral” and noted that academic exchanges between the two countries were “essential to build bridges of mutual understanding”.
He told journalists he had not yet spoken with his hosts about human rights, but said the subject could be raised on Monday during discussions on cultural matters.
He explained that discussion on scientific issues took precedence.
“I think that the fact of having very high level scientific diplomacy makes it possible to open a general dialogue,” he said.
Botta, speaking to the Swiss news agency, described Ai as a man who had “a lot of courage”.
Burkhalter arrived in China on April 21 on a visit lasting until April 27. He is scheduled to hold talks on Monday with the Chinese ministers of health, education and of science and technology.
swissinfo.ch and agencies