At this point, there are so many conflicting accounts in the Chen Guangcheng case that it’s hard to know which is accurate. But in an interview with Daily Beast’s Melinda Liu, Chen maintains that he felt pressured into leaving the U.S. embassy by American officials:
At the embassy, Chen said he came under tremendous pressure from American officials—“not those from the embassy but others” —to leave the diplomatic facility as quickly as possible. From the very beginning, he said, the assumption was that he would stay in China. “I had no information, I got no phone calls from friends, I was isolated,” he told me, his voice trembling. “Then I heard about the threat that my wife would be sent back home to Shandong if I didn’t leave the embassy. So I left.” …
“[Chen's current situation] totally contradicts the rosy picture I got in a conference call I had with U.S. officials Wednesday morning. They summarized the situation, and it sounded like a beautiful, happy scene,” said Bob Fu, president of the U.S.-based ChinaAid Association, which has acted as a facilitator in Chen’s case.
Fu had spoken by phone with Chen shortly before I had. “He was very heavy-hearted,” Fu said. “He was crying when we spoke. He said he was under enormous pressure to leave the embassy. Some people almost made him feel he was being a huge burden to the U.S.”
This completely contradicts the State Department’s version of events. According to Ambassador Gary Locke, the embassy was prepared to shelter Chen for years if necessary:
MS. NULAND: Guys, I think what Ambassador Locke was saying was that the first proposal that was negotiated with the Chinese side was unacceptable to him, and on that basis, he was prepared to stay as long as he was going to have to, and the embassy understanding that it could be years.
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: And we were – we respected that and started making preparations and thinking about what his living arrangements would be on a daily basis in the embassy based on that decision. So we respected his decision.
Needless to say, the Chen Guancheng case has gone from diplomatic disaster to diplomatic tsunami. And, in a way, it’s also a much-needed wakeup call to the Obama administration, which has a bleak record when it comes to pressuring China on human rights. This case has thrust the issue into the open, forcing the administration to engage.
U.S. officials reportedly indicated today that they’re considering what steps to take now that Chen has requested to leave the country. And while the Chinese government will obviously be reluctant to reopen negotiations, the Obama administration can still apply significant public pressure, as Jonathan wrote earlier.