Taiwan's president urged China on Friday to respect the artistic freedom of outspoken Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who was detained for nearly three months earlier this year and is currently confined to Beijing.
"He's an artist and should have the freedom to express his artistic views," President Ma Ying-jeou said after viewing Ai's exhibition at a Taipei museum. "This is also the core value of Taiwan."
Ma said he deplored that Chinese police detained Ai at the Beijing airport on April 3 as the conceptual artist was about to depart for Taiwan to prepare for the exhibit.
The detention came during a sweeping Chinese crackdown on activists and sparked an international outcry over China's deteriorating human rights situation. Ai was released in June but is prohibited from leaving Beijing.
China's government says Ai was detained on tax evasion charges. However, activists say he is being punished for his often outspoken criticism of the authoritarian government.
The exhibit at Taipei's Fine Arts Museum, titled "Ai Weiwei, Absent," focuses on the political significance of the artist's inability to attend.
The exhibit of 21 works, which opened last month and runs through late January, includes a white marble-made helmet and a surveillance camera, which Ai created to mock China as a police state. Another piece consists of 1,000 bicycles piled in layers, reflecting his perception of the rapid pace of Chinese social change.
The exhibit in Taiwan has a political significance of its own. Unlike the communist mainland, the island of 23 million people is a freewheeling democracy with few restrictions on expression.
"The distance between Taiwan and China will be determined by their views on human rights protection," Ma said. "When our views get closer, the two sides will move closer."
Taiwan and China split amid civil war in 1949, but China still claims the self-ruled island a part of its own territory. Since Ma took office in 2008, tensions between the two sides have dropped to their lowest point in decades.
Ma has pushed for economic engagement with Beijing, but refuses to have political dialogue.