Each year a different country is the special guest at the world’s largest book fair. As this year’s choice China told organisers it would not attend if journalist Dai Qing and exiled author Bei Ling appeared at a pre-fair symposium this weekend called “China and the World: Perceptions and Realities.”
Book fair organisers were criticised for initially caving into pressure from Beijing and retracting the invitations.
But fair director Juergen Boos confirmed that both would attend the event as private spectators, adding that the schedule would not be changed because neither had planned to make any official speeches.
Organisers said neither writer had wanted their presence to provoke Chinese officials and had therefore agreed to simply be guests.
“The Chinese are the most important participants in the symposium,” Boos said. “We want to speak with them, not just about them.”
He defended the book fair’s initial choice to exclude the two writers, saying compromises between partners are “inevitable.”
If they attend the symposium as a private spectator, the Chinese shouldn’t object, he said. “It’s a public event that is freely accessible,” he said.
Symposium organiser Peter Ripken said he was unsure of how Chinese officials would react to the presence of the environmental activist who spent time in prison for her work.
The possibility that China could still boycott the event remains “in the air,” Ripken told news agency DPA. “I’m getting different signals.”