|I was put under house arrest in Beijing. Though here to promote trade, the prime minister mustn't ignore our human rights
By Ai Weiwei
On my trip to London this year, for the launch of my installation at the Tate Modern, I went to the Houses of Parliament. I watched a debate on education and children, and was deeply impressed.
It was a perfect model for democratic practice. Of course, every society has its own problems, but I think Britain is a society where important issues can be discussed and politicians can constantly adjust their positions in order to improve conditions.
As David Cameron arrives here, he should understand that China is a nation that still has very limited freedom of speech and access to information, and which does not have public elections for its own leaders or an independent judicial system.
When you have strict censorship of the internet, young students cannot receive a full education. Their view of the world is imbalanced. There can be no true discussion of the issues.
The Communist party benefits the most from China's so-called development, and despite the economic growth a lot of people still suffer misfortunes. All those problems became even stronger when China was struggling to be the labourer of the world market.
Now all the nations of the developed world are trying to do business with China. Of course, it's an arrangement in which both sides profit. But on the Chinese side it means more unfairness to labourers and damage to the environment. This kind of business is done through the sacrifice of basic values and human dignity.
People are not looking for mercy, but we think the world has to become unified. You cannot simply give up fundamental beliefs in human rights for a short-term gain.
This kind of thinking will cause tragedy in the future. It is going to be a strong challenge for the nations of the world to survive economically and at the same time protect civilised values, which come from the long struggle of science and humanitarianism.
We see the tendency in the world to criticise democracy and sometimes even to say that authoritarian countries like China are more efficient. That is very short-sighted. China looks efficient only because it can sacrifice most people's rights. This is not something the west should be happy about. In a town like Guangzhou there are thousands of workers who suffer injuries such as losing fingers in work accidents. They are on low salaries. They have no future.
Since the global economic crisis began, the change in global attitudes is clear to see – and I think it is pitiful. Barack Obama came to China and he is probably the only president of the United States never to mention the words "human rights" in public. You see it in France, with Hu Jintao's visit last week. How can people be so short-sighted? How can they betray those basic values?
Now the British are coming. I think Cameron should ask the Chinese government not to make people "disappear" or to jail them merely because they have different opinions. No nation can survive and meet the major challenges if it does not have people with different opinions. China should have an open society to discuss different issues and ideologies. It cannot just put its best minds behind bars. There are too many cases where this is happening.
Cameron should say that the civilised world cannot see China as a civilised country if it doesn't change its own behaviour. I don't believe that these are western values. These are universal values. No one is forcing China to accept values from outside – they are just asking it to listen to its own people.• Ai Weiwei, co-designer of the Beijing Olympic stadium, is due to be released from house arrest in the Chinese capital tonight at midnight.
Ai Weiwei is one of China's leading contemporary artists. He helped to establish the experimental artists' East Village in Beijing. As an artistic consultant for design, he collaborated with the Swiss architecture firm Herzog and de Meuron in designing the Beijing National Stadium, the "Bird's Nest". But since then he has distanced himself from the state and Olympics, becoming an increasingly outspoken advocate of China's political reform and refusing to attend the opening ceremony