Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is still in Beijing where she has been meeting with Chinese leaders along with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. But if she thinks she can fly home without resolving the fate of blind activist lawyer Chen Guangcheng, she’s making a mistake that will further establish the reputation of the Obama administration as the worst on human rights in a generation.
The State Department has now admitted that Chen doesn’t want to stay in China any longer as part of a deal that American officials obviously pressured him into accepting so he would consent to leave the U.S. embassy where he had sought asylum. Chen is now in a hospital where authorities are preventing him from speaking to the Americans, but he has had contact with family members who have told him of the threats they are experiencing. Chen knows that if he is to survive, he has to get out of the country. And that’s where Hillary must step in and act fast.
Chen has expressed the hope that Clinton will take him and his family on her plane when she leaves China. But whether that’s possible or not, the secretary cannot leave the country while this dispute is ongoing. Though the communist tyrants of Beijing hold most of the cards in this dispute, Clinton still has some leverage.
Clinton can use the bully pulpit of the summit not just to talk about human rights in general as she rightly did yesterday. She can also raise the issue of Chen’s safety in public and thoroughly embarrass President Hu Jintao if the Chinese don’t allow Chen out in an expeditious manner.
The problem here is not just the fact that the world knows Chen, who escaped from house arrest and courageously made his way to the U.S. Embassy, is in grave danger now that he is back under the control of the regime. It’s that by persuading him to leave their protection, American officials have invested the honor and good name of the United States in the outcome of this incident. Clinton simply cannot let this go as just one more regrettable but unavoidable instance of kowtowing to the Chinese because prioritizing human rights interferes with other pressing business America must conduct with Beijing.
As Alana wrote yesterday, the administration’s record on helping Chinese activists is already poor. If Clinton leaves China thinking it won’t matter much in the long run if she allows Chen to be swallowed up again by the Laogai — the Chinese gulag — it will be a story that will haunt her and President Obama for years to come.