Dissident artist Ai Weiwei says virus has only strengthened China's 'police state'

Ai has been critical of China's handling of the outbreak, which was first identified in the city of Wuhan and has since spread to more than 210 countries and territories, infecting over 2.5 million people. In a recent opinion piece for The Art Newspaper, he argued that the ruling Communist Party's containment tactics have proven the "effectiveness of authoritarian rules," while other countries' inability to control the pandemic has exposed the "disadvantages and malpractices of free and democratic societies."

Such comments are consistent with his wider assessment of the Chinese state's far-reaching powers. Many issues raised by the pandemic, from censorship to surveillance, are subjects Ai has spent years exploring. In recent weeks, much has been made of China's alleged efforts to conceal the initial outbreak of the virus - an allegation Beijing strongly denies.

According to Ai, China's selective handing of information early on provided a "chance for the virus to spread." However, understanding China's motivations is as important to Ai as the alleged cover-up, or the suggestion that the country's infection numbers and fatalities have been under-reported. "The West's blame is very superficial," said Ai. "They (in the West) only talk about China practically -- (that it) doesn't release information. But they never ask, 'Why?'"

As Ai sees it, China would not function as a state without the "control and manipulation" of information. "For China, everything is for political use. And they have a clear reason to give the numbers they want to, or to limit or to change or distort the so-called truth," said Ai....

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