Artist Ai Weiwei has called on the British Government to make its voice heard in support of the “brave” anti-government protesters in Hong Kong.
The Chinese artist, 62, who is now based in the UK, spoke as police in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory shot a teenage protester at close range.
Protesters are defying a ban to take to the streets and march on the 70th anniversary of Communist rule in China.
Weiwei, famous for his installation of 100 million “sunflower seeds” at Tate Modern, told the PA news agency: “The young people (in Hong Kong) are so brave, sacrificing their life for ideology.”
He said: “That ideology being shared by the West, Britain should be much more responsible, should speak clearly.”
The artist, who was opening his first art show in London since announcing his move to the UK, said Britain provoked a “laugh” from the Chinese authorities because it did not speak up enough.
“The Chinese government… they really look down on Britain. Britain has been so timid… internationally,” he said.
“The British Government should speak out today to give a clear message about what’s happening in Hong Kong.”
His comments came as Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab issued a statement saying that “whilst there is no excuse for violence, the use of live ammunition is disproportionate, and only risks inflaming the situation”.
“This incident underlines the need for a constructive dialogue to address the legitimate concerns of the people of Hong Kong. We need to see restraint and a de-escalation from both protesters and the Hong Kong authorities,” he said.
Weiwei left China in 2015 before moving to Berlin and then the UK.
He said of China: “There is so much lacking in terms of political change, they are so stubborn and shy away from basic human conditions, human rights, freedom of speech”.
His new exhibition features huge sculptural works in iron, cast from giant tree roots sourced in Brazil.
Weiwei, an outspoken critic of China’s human rights record, said: “I like trees. I use the condition of the trees to measure society.
“If you go to a park in England, you see the most beautiful trees and you imagine what kind of society can protect trees like that.
“China has thousands of years of history but … for thousands of miles in the north of China, you couldn’t find a single tree over 100 years old because people have been cutting them down”.
His sculptures were made before the rainforest fires in Brazil made the headlines.
“There has been such dramatic change by cutting down the most precious things in nature for short-term profit and gain,” Weiwei said.
He said his famous “sunflower seeds” installation is still going on show around the world.
“Many have been taken by visitors! They take a few but we have plenty,” the artist said.