Ai's out, but the crackdown continues

While Ai Weiwei's surprising release dominated the headlines yesterday, the Chinese government took the chance to detain one of China's most important civil rights lawyers, Xu Zhiyong. Rumors of his disappearance on Wednesday were confirmed first on Twitter and then in a Financial Times article today. However, a post on his Twitter feed suggests that he has since been released. A rough translation:

Thanks everyone for your concern. I've returned home. Last night I was taken away in order to prevent me from taking non-registered permanent residence parents in Beijing to the Ministry of Education to petition for the 12th time.

The last sentence refers to his recent efforts to push for reforms in China's hukou (residency permit) system, which makes it extremely difficult for children of migrant workers to attend schools in the cities to which their parents have moved.

Xu first gained fame as a legal reformer in 2003, when he successfully pushed to end China's extrajudicial system of "black jails." As the head of the Open Constitution Initiative, his clients have included the families of the victims of the China's recent tainted-milk scandal. This spring, he has also been providing legal assistance to the independent candidates' movement gathering steam in China. He himself mounted successful runs in 2003 and 2006 as an independent candidate for a seat in the People's Congress of his home district in Beijing.

Two down, 130 to go.

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G.O.P. 2012 round-up: Afghanistan; Palin cancels Sudan trip; Huntsman talks foreign policy with big-name advisors


Afghanistan was obviously front and center on the minds of the Republican hopefuls today. With the race for the nomination heating up, the potential candidates wasted little time weighing in on Obama's plan. Here's a look at where they came down -- plus, some of today's other foreign-policy news from the field.


GOP Candidates: Obama went too far... or he didn't go far enough

The candidates' reactions to Obama's Afghanistan troop drawdown speech has been overwhelmingly negative. But they've been critical for different reasons.

Newly declared candidate Jon Huntsman wants a more rapid drawdown, and Ron Paul said Obama's plan is "too little, too late."

On Obama's right, Tim Pawlenty seemed to go the farthest, saying on Fox News after the speech he was deeply concerned about Obama's plan. "When America goes to war, America needs to win," he said. Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator, and Herman Cain, the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza, agreed. "President Obama speaks of winding down our engagement in Afghanistan, but he does not emphasize the need for victory," Santorum said. Cain said Obama's plan "could embolden our enemy and endanger our troops."

Front-runner Mitt Romney took a more middle-of-the road view in a statement after the speech. "We all want our troops to come home as soon as possible, but we shouldn't adhere to an arbitrary timetable," he said.

Sarah Palin not going to Sudan

The former Alaska governor was supposed to travel to war-ravaged Sudan next month on a tour with the evangelical leader Franklin Graham and Fox News host Greta Van Susteren, but she pulled out this week. Sources close to her told the Washington Post it was because of scheduling conflicts, but it might also have had something to do with security concerns. One U.S. official told the paper that safety would prove to be a challenge. Even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton might be forced to cancel a trip there -- planned to coincide with South Sudan's independence ceremony next month -- for security reasons.

Graham told the Post he hoped Palin could reschedule the trip soon. "She would be a very good person to help draw attention to the plight of the Christians in South Sudan," he said. "We've got George Clooney, we've got some Hollywood-type people. I'm very grateful for what Mr. Clooney has done. But we need everybody we can find."

Palin previously traveled with Graham to Haiti to tour the earthquake devastation there.

Jon Huntsman consults with Republican heavyweights

In an interview with Politico, the former ambassador to China and the newest entrant into the presidential field reveals he has been consulting with some heavy-hitters of the Republican national security establishment. According to Politico, the list includes former National Security Advisor to George H.W. Bush Brent Scowcroft, former Deputy Secretary of State to George W. Bush Richard Armitage, and former director of policy planning for the State Department under W. -- and current head of the Council on Foreign Relations -- Richard Haass. All three are known for their realist views and past criticisms of the Iraq war. The nature of the consultation wasn't characterized, but their foreign-policy philosophies would seem to mesh with that of the candidate, who also said in the interview he would support a fast drawdown of troops in Afghanistan. Huntsman didn't give numbers, but said he would lay out his plan when he gives a "major foreign-policy address" later this summer.