Commentary Magazine


Topic: Chen Guangcheng

The Blind Dissident and the American Left

Chinese dissident and human rights activist Chen Guangcheng got a taste of American partisan politics almost immediately after appealing to the U.S. for asylum last year. In 2012, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a high-profile visit to Beijing. She was representing the administration of Barack Obama, who was locked in a general-election campaign against Mitt Romney, who was taking a more hawkish line on Chinese trade and currency shenanigans to try to exploit what he felt was a foreign-policy weakness of the president’s.

That meant that Clinton’s trip would be under the microscope and every word overanalyzed. On top of that, Clinton is mulling a presidential bid in 2016 and her Chinese counterparts were quite aware that they were dealing with Obama’s possible successor. The optics and the politics had to be just right for a whole host of domestic reasons, to say nothing of the pressure from the Chinese side, which was preparing for a leadership shuffle of its own. And that’s when Chen threw everybody’s plans off.

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Chinese dissident and human rights activist Chen Guangcheng got a taste of American partisan politics almost immediately after appealing to the U.S. for asylum last year. In 2012, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a high-profile visit to Beijing. She was representing the administration of Barack Obama, who was locked in a general-election campaign against Mitt Romney, who was taking a more hawkish line on Chinese trade and currency shenanigans to try to exploit what he felt was a foreign-policy weakness of the president’s.

That meant that Clinton’s trip would be under the microscope and every word overanalyzed. On top of that, Clinton is mulling a presidential bid in 2016 and her Chinese counterparts were quite aware that they were dealing with Obama’s possible successor. The optics and the politics had to be just right for a whole host of domestic reasons, to say nothing of the pressure from the Chinese side, which was preparing for a leadership shuffle of its own. And that’s when Chen threw everybody’s plans off.

A public spat over human rights may have been the last thing Clinton and her Chinese counterparts needed at the moment, but the hearty attention being paid to her visit made it precisely the right time for Chen, known as the “blind dissident,” to make his move. Not only did his surprise visit to the American embassy add a layer of tension to Clinton’s visit, but he was also famous for warning of the dark side of China’s one-child policy and calling attention to the Chinese government’s forced abortions.

As soon as it became clear that Clinton’s attempts to get the Chinese government to let her grant Chen American asylum were off to a rough start, Romney criticized the administration’s handling of the issue and Republicans in Congress called a hearing to highlight Chen’s case. Romney was criticized for jumping into the case and the press used the incident to highlight division within Romney’s campaign. The congressional hearing, led by the staunchly pro-life Republican Chris Smith, featured a phone call to Chen directly. Chen was officially a partisan issue.

Smith’s hearing was derided by media voices as well, but it later emerged that the hearing is almost surely what secured Chen’s freedom after Clinton’s efforts went nowhere. Considering that back story, today’s New York Times feature claiming Chen’s first year in the U.S., at a brief fellowship with New York University, was beset by controversy and his work somewhat discredited by his association with conservative activists falls flat. The Times reports:

Chen, 41, has found himself enmeshed in controversy. Backed by a coterie of conservative figures, Mr. Chen has publicly accused N.Y.U. of bowing to Chinese government pressure and prematurely ending his fellowship this summer. The university says the fellowship was intended to be for only one year. Some of those around Mr. Chen also accuse the university of trying to shield him from conservative activists.

The sparring has grown fierce, with N.Y.U. officials accusing one of those conservative activists, Bob Fu, the president of a Texas-based Christian group that seeks to pressure China over its religious restrictions, of trying to track Mr. Chen surreptitiously through a cellphone and a tablet computer that Mr. Fu’s organization donated to him.

The controversy kicked up by Mr. Chen’s accusations against N.Y.U. has dismayed some of his supporters so much that a wealthy donor who had pledged to finance a three-year visiting scholar position for him at Fordham University recently withdrew the offer. That means Mr. Chen, who declined to be interviewed for this article and who returns to New York from a visit to Taiwan on Thursday, has to line up another source of financing. If that does not pan out, he will be left with a single job offer: from the Witherspoon Institute, a conservative research organization in New Jersey that is perhaps best known for its opposition to same-sex marriage and stem cell research.

With regard to the NYU controversy, it’s doubtful either side has a monopoly on the truth. The university seems to have wanted to have its cake and eat it too, by welcoming an international celebrity (and doing its part to help end a diplomatic standoff by offering Chen a fellowship) but hoping to keep the feisty dissident quiet enough not to antagonize the Chinese government, since NYU is opening a campus in Shanghai. There is also the matter of the three NYU researchers, all Chinese citizens, who have been charged with accepting bribes from Chinese entities to pass on the information about their work, which was sponsored by a U.S. federal grant from the NIH. Chen’s departure from NYU was unceremonious to say the least.

At the same time, it’s difficult to imagine NYU is guilty of some of the accusations leveled by Chen’s supporters, including that Chen was muzzled by an official NYU minder whose job it was to run interference for the school. There are few places more admiring of Chinese-style statism and authoritarianism than elite American universities, but that doesn’t mean they function as Stalinist reeducation camps or thought prisons.

But any intellectual romance Chen hoped to have with the American left or academia was doomed from the very start. The defense of unlimited, unregulated abortion is sacred to the American left. So is the idea that increasing the size and scope of government is the solution to virtually any problem, including those created by big government in the first place. The language the left deploys in these fights dehumanizes unborn children and deemphasizes individual rights and individual identity–“the government is us,” as President Obama said just this week. Chen has dedicated his life to warning of the consequences when those principles are taken to their frightful extremes. And he doesn’t seem to have any interest in stopping now.

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China’s Atrocities Don’t Interest Americans

Last week, the New York Times finally ran a piece on a story that had been circulation around the Internet for months. A woman purchasing a package of Halloween decorations at a K-Mart in Oregon found a letter in English placed there by one of the workers who had made the product. It said the following:

“Sir: If you occasionally buy this product, please kindly resend this letter to the World Human Right Organization,” said the note, which was tucked between two ersatz tombstones and fell out when the woman, Julie Keith, opened the box in her living room last October. “Thousands people here who are under the persicution [sic] of the Chinese Communist Party Government will thank and remember you forever.”

Ms. Keith was profoundly affected by this shocking message—whose author was recently found—but knew nothing about the situation in the Laogai, the Chinese gulag where “re-education through labor” subjects hundreds of thousands if not many millions of Chinese criminals as well as religious believers and political dissidents to horrific conditions as well as torture and death. So do most Americans. But the really awful truth about the American view of China is that even those who know or ought to know what is going on there simply don’t care. Five days after the Times ran the story about the inmate’s letter, it published a piece about New York University’s decision to push out a prominent Chinese dissident for fear that his continued presence on campus would harm the school’s close financial relationship with Beijing. Just as any hope of abolishing these camps is made impossible by the fact that the Chinese police profit from the suffering of their inmates, so, too, American institutions and businesses are compromised by their financial ties to an evil system.

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Last week, the New York Times finally ran a piece on a story that had been circulation around the Internet for months. A woman purchasing a package of Halloween decorations at a K-Mart in Oregon found a letter in English placed there by one of the workers who had made the product. It said the following:

“Sir: If you occasionally buy this product, please kindly resend this letter to the World Human Right Organization,” said the note, which was tucked between two ersatz tombstones and fell out when the woman, Julie Keith, opened the box in her living room last October. “Thousands people here who are under the persicution [sic] of the Chinese Communist Party Government will thank and remember you forever.”

Ms. Keith was profoundly affected by this shocking message—whose author was recently found—but knew nothing about the situation in the Laogai, the Chinese gulag where “re-education through labor” subjects hundreds of thousands if not many millions of Chinese criminals as well as religious believers and political dissidents to horrific conditions as well as torture and death. So do most Americans. But the really awful truth about the American view of China is that even those who know or ought to know what is going on there simply don’t care. Five days after the Times ran the story about the inmate’s letter, it published a piece about New York University’s decision to push out a prominent Chinese dissident for fear that his continued presence on campus would harm the school’s close financial relationship with Beijing. Just as any hope of abolishing these camps is made impossible by the fact that the Chinese police profit from the suffering of their inmates, so, too, American institutions and businesses are compromised by their financial ties to an evil system.

Chen Guangcheng had his 15 minutes of fame when then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton persuaded the Chinese government to allow the blind lawyer to leave the country. Chen was a forceful critic of the country’s despotic one-child policies that have involved forced abortions and was given a law fellowship at NYU, but he was recently told to leave and vacate the apartment the university gave him in Greenwich Village. NYU claims it has done nothing wrong and treated Chen with generosity, but the school’s interest in disassociating itself from the dissident’s forceful criticism of China’s Communist rulers is clear. Like many American colleges, NYU is opening a Chinese campus and doesn’t want to pick fights with Beijing.

Chen said the following in a statement:

“The work of the Chinese Communists within academic circles in the United States is far greater than what people imagine, and some scholars have no option but to hold themselves back,” Mr. Chen said. “Academic independence and academic freedom in the United States are being greatly threatened by a totalitarian regime.”

According to NYU, Chen’s fellowship simply expired and it was time for him to move on to other opportunities. But even if that were true, the university’s well publicized generosity to scholars that it considers academic stars—including loans and fabulous vacation homes in the Hamptons—makes their eviction notice to a man who might be considered an academic luminary if education about human rights was a priority seem slightly suspicious.

But the problem here isn’t so much NYU’s hypocrisy or whether Chen simply has had a misunderstanding with the school. With the American economy inextricably tied to that of China via an astronomical debt and trade imbalance and with U.S. consumers and industries addicted to the cheap goods produced in Chinese sweatshops or in concentration camps, there is no constituency behind protests aimed at highlighting abuses there.

China is not quite the totalitarian nightmare that it was under Mao as free enterprise has blossomed there, but neither is it remotely free. Political and religious freedom doesn’t exist there. Nor can private property truly be safe in a system where there is no rule of law. For all the talk about the lunacy in North Korea and other tyrannical nations, the scale of human rights abuses in the world’s most populous country dwarfs anything happening anywhere else.

Americans should be ashamed that they don’t know that the cheap stuff they purchase in stores here is paid for in the blood of suffering dissidents and religious believers. Where once mass movements pushed for change in the Soviet Union and even South Africa, people like Chen find themselves stranded in a free country that isn’t interested in what is going on in China. If they lash out in despair at this lamentable situation, who can blame them?

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The Failure of “Quiet Diplomacy” in China

When Chinese anti-forced-abortion activist and dissident Chen Guangcheng attempted to use Hillary Clinton’s visit to China earlier this year to get his family to safety abroad, his efforts and those of the State Department appeared to have failed just hours before a deal was struck to save Chen. The narrative of that story held that a Republican House committee chaired by Chris Smith–which called a hearing on the case as it was developing–and presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney had behaved recklessly in drawing such public attention to the case and appearing to hand down judgment on the case before diplomacy had a chance to work.

Typical of this attitude was a comment from Chinese politics expert Steve Tsang to the U.K. Guardian, as the story unfolded: “Public diplomacy or grandstanding will limit the scope for quiet diplomacy.” We have plenty of counterexamples in recent history that challenge this theory, but it appears now we don’t need to employ them. The full picture of Chen’s case comes to us in Susan Glasser’s Foreign Policy magazine cover profile of Clinton, at the very beginning and very end of the piece (everything in between is gauzy admiration terminally wounded by the article’s repeated and gauche comparison of Clinton to Aung San Suu Kyi).

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When Chinese anti-forced-abortion activist and dissident Chen Guangcheng attempted to use Hillary Clinton’s visit to China earlier this year to get his family to safety abroad, his efforts and those of the State Department appeared to have failed just hours before a deal was struck to save Chen. The narrative of that story held that a Republican House committee chaired by Chris Smith–which called a hearing on the case as it was developing–and presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney had behaved recklessly in drawing such public attention to the case and appearing to hand down judgment on the case before diplomacy had a chance to work.

Typical of this attitude was a comment from Chinese politics expert Steve Tsang to the U.K. Guardian, as the story unfolded: “Public diplomacy or grandstanding will limit the scope for quiet diplomacy.” We have plenty of counterexamples in recent history that challenge this theory, but it appears now we don’t need to employ them. The full picture of Chen’s case comes to us in Susan Glasser’s Foreign Policy magazine cover profile of Clinton, at the very beginning and very end of the piece (everything in between is gauzy admiration terminally wounded by the article’s repeated and gauche comparison of Clinton to Aung San Suu Kyi).

Here is the key paragraph:

Still, the Chinese did not give in. At one point, an advisor who was present recalled, Clinton finally seemed to catch their attention by mentioning what a political circus the case had become — with Chen even dialing in to a U.S. congressional hearing that Thursday by cell phone from his hospital bed to say he feared for his safety if he remained in China. The Chinese team was visibly surprised. Eventually, Dai agreed at least to let the negotiations proceed. A few hours later, exhausted U.S. officials announced a deal.

Again, this is not terribly surprising, nor does it detract from the hard work of Clinton, who was there on the ground to carry out tough, and ultimately successful, negotiations. But it is always omitted from official accounts of the story, possibly because no one knew this before Glasser’s article. It turns out that Clinton got a nice boost from a game-changer: Republicans in Congress who made Chen’s plight as visible and public as possible, convincing the Chinese the game was out of the shadows and the world was watching.

Then, at the end of the article, we have one more piece of information. It is speculative, and Glasser acknowledges this, so we should take it with a grain of salt:

What would it take for her to run again for president in 2016? “Nothing,” she replied quickly. Then she laughed. Even the Chinese, she said, had asked her about it at Wednesday night’s dinner, suggesting she should run. They were “saying things like, ‘Well, you know, I mean 2016 is not so far away.… You may retire, but you’re very young,’” Clinton recalled.

Maybe, I ventured, that’s why they had in the end been willing to accommodate her on Chen; they were investing in a future with a possible President Clinton.

Clinton played coy and wouldn’t answer the question, but obviously there is something to it. In any case, it seems “quiet diplomacy” got nowhere until Chris Smith turned up the volume back home.

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Credit is Due for Chen’s Flight to Safety

Because I have been critical of President Obama’s handling of Afghanistan and other foreign policy issues, it is only fair to give credit where it’s due. And the administration does deserve credit for engineering Chinese dissident’s Chen Guangcheng’s flight to safety in the U.S. along with his immediate family.

The administration stumbled initially by conniving in a deal to force Chen to leave sanctuary in the U.S. embassy in Beijing where he had fled after eluding thuggish security forces. But the administration, led in this case by Secretary of State Clinton, was not entirely to blame because it appears that Chen changed his mind about whether he wanted to leave the embassy or not. When he did decide that he wanted to come to the U.S., the administration went to bat for him even though “realpolitik” voices in the administration no doubt urged abandoning him to his fate so as not to disturb bilateral relations. President Obama and Secretary Clinton rightly rejected the siren song of faux realism and not only pressured Beijing to let him go but gave him sanctuary on our shores.

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Because I have been critical of President Obama’s handling of Afghanistan and other foreign policy issues, it is only fair to give credit where it’s due. And the administration does deserve credit for engineering Chinese dissident’s Chen Guangcheng’s flight to safety in the U.S. along with his immediate family.

The administration stumbled initially by conniving in a deal to force Chen to leave sanctuary in the U.S. embassy in Beijing where he had fled after eluding thuggish security forces. But the administration, led in this case by Secretary of State Clinton, was not entirely to blame because it appears that Chen changed his mind about whether he wanted to leave the embassy or not. When he did decide that he wanted to come to the U.S., the administration went to bat for him even though “realpolitik” voices in the administration no doubt urged abandoning him to his fate so as not to disturb bilateral relations. President Obama and Secretary Clinton rightly rejected the siren song of faux realism and not only pressured Beijing to let him go but gave him sanctuary on our shores.

Kudos to the president and his aides for recovering from an early gaffe and doing the right thing. Now the administration must stay closely involved to try to ensure that Chen’s friends and relatives, who aided him in his flight, do not suffer a harsh retribution for their courageous conduct, as seems likely.

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Silence on Dissident’s Pro-Life Activism

Blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng is still confined to a hospital in Beijing, and the Chinese government is reportedly dragging its feet on issuing him a passport. As with any case like this, time is not on Chen’s side. With each passing day, media attention and public pressure diminishes. Already, the Chinese government is allegedly holding members of Chen’s family under house arrest. And obviously the crackdown could get worse as the story continues to fade from the front pages.

In an effort to keep attention on the case, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) plans to hold a hearing on Chen’s plight next week, Josh Rogin reports:

In an interview in the Capitol building, Smith said he intends to hold another congressional hearing on May 15 on the Chen case — to follow up on the hearing he held May 3, which Chen actually phoned into. Smith has invited Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell and State Department Counselor Harold Koh to the hearing, but those officials have yet to RSVP.

“I don’t think they want the hearing frankly. But we need to keep the focus on this,” Smith said. …

“The administration has hermetically sealed his message, the man and why he was in trouble, from this incident,” Smith told The Cable. “Have you heard anybody talk about that he was defending women from forced abortion? Hillary Clinton? Not a word. I Googled it.”

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Blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng is still confined to a hospital in Beijing, and the Chinese government is reportedly dragging its feet on issuing him a passport. As with any case like this, time is not on Chen’s side. With each passing day, media attention and public pressure diminishes. Already, the Chinese government is allegedly holding members of Chen’s family under house arrest. And obviously the crackdown could get worse as the story continues to fade from the front pages.

In an effort to keep attention on the case, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) plans to hold a hearing on Chen’s plight next week, Josh Rogin reports:

In an interview in the Capitol building, Smith said he intends to hold another congressional hearing on May 15 on the Chen case — to follow up on the hearing he held May 3, which Chen actually phoned into. Smith has invited Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell and State Department Counselor Harold Koh to the hearing, but those officials have yet to RSVP.

“I don’t think they want the hearing frankly. But we need to keep the focus on this,” Smith said. …

“The administration has hermetically sealed his message, the man and why he was in trouble, from this incident,” Smith told The Cable. “Have you heard anybody talk about that he was defending women from forced abortion? Hillary Clinton? Not a word. I Googled it.”

Smith says the Obama administration hasn’t mentioned Chen’s life’s work – opposition to forced abortions and sterilization – the way it typically has in similar dissident cases. And it may not just be for fear of irritating China. Last year, President Obama released a statement praising the pro-democracy efforts of imprisoned Nobel Laureate and Chinese activist Liu Xiaobo:

All of us have a responsibility to build a just peace that recognizes the inherent rights and dignity of human beings – a truth upheld within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In our own lives, our own countries, and in the world, the pursuit of a just peace remains incomplete, even as we strive for progress. This past year saw the release of Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, even as the Burmese people continue to be denied the democracy that they deserve. Nobel Laureate Jose Ramos Horta has continued his tireless work to build a free and prosperous East Timor, having made the transition from dissident to president. And this past year saw the retirement of Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu, whose own career demonstrates the universal power of freedom and justice to overcome extraordinary obstacles.

But Mr. Liu reminds us that human dignity also depends upon the advance of democracy, open society, and the rule of law. The values he espouses are universal, his struggle is peaceful, and he should be released as soon as possible.

Is the administration uncomfortable addressing Chen’s pro-life activism for political reasons? Or is there a concern it would be an unnecessary poke at China? Either way, the omissions are unfortunate. Chen’s story has refocused attention on China’s appalling human rights record, which is too often ignored, but his actual activism against forced abortions is rarely mentioned in the media. This is an issue that should get much more attention, and Rep. Smith is right to raise it.

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Chen and Family to “Study Abroad” in U.S.

The State Department confirmed this morning that it’s reached a deal with the Chinese government in the case of blind dissident Chen Guangcheng:

The Chinese Government stated today that Mr. Chen Guangcheng has the same right to travel abroad as any other citizen of China. Mr. Chen has been offered a fellowship from an American university, where he can be accompanied by his wife and two children.

The Chinese Government has indicated that it will accept Mr. Chen’s applications for appropriate travel documents. The United States Government expects that the Chinese Government will expeditiously process his applications for these documents and make accommodations for his current medical condition. The United States Government would then give visa requests for him and his immediate family priority attention.

This matter has been handled in the spirit of a cooperative U.S.-China partnership.

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The State Department confirmed this morning that it’s reached a deal with the Chinese government in the case of blind dissident Chen Guangcheng:

The Chinese Government stated today that Mr. Chen Guangcheng has the same right to travel abroad as any other citizen of China. Mr. Chen has been offered a fellowship from an American university, where he can be accompanied by his wife and two children.

The Chinese Government has indicated that it will accept Mr. Chen’s applications for appropriate travel documents. The United States Government expects that the Chinese Government will expeditiously process his applications for these documents and make accommodations for his current medical condition. The United States Government would then give visa requests for him and his immediate family priority attention.

This matter has been handled in the spirit of a cooperative U.S.-China partnership.

The statement says Chen has been offered a fellowship at an “American university,” but notably doesn’t mention which one yet. Obviously, the details are still being hammered out. But the deal sounds like a good one for all sides. Not only was the Chen case a public relations disaster for the Obama administration, it also put the Chinese government’s human rights abuses in the international media spotlight. Both had an incentive to end this story as quickly as possible. And it sounds like it will be a happy ending for Chen and his family, who will be able to take time in the U.S. and decide what they want to do on a permanent basis.

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Chen Contradicted State Department Claims

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.”

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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.

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Hillary Shouldn’t Leave Chen Behind

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.

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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.

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Betrayal of Dissidents at Core of Realism

Alana Goodman is absolutely correct that the Obama administration’s treatment of Chen Guangcheng is abominable. But the betrayal of dissidents is simply the bread-and-butter both of realists and the UN’s breed of internationalists, both philosophies to which Obama aspires.

In the 1970s, realists sought to kill the Jackson-Vanik Amendment which tied relations with the Soviet Union to freedom of emigration. Realists claimed that emigration—predominantly by Soviet Jewry—was not a core U.S. interest and that congressional meddling risked rapprochement with the Soviet Union. It was only after the fall of the Soviet Union that dissidents and ex-communist officials both testified as to how Jackson-Vanik de-legitimized the Soviet Union and shook it to its core. Alas, few realists are students of history. As Sen. John Kerry auditions for a second-term Obama administration secretary of state appointment, he burnishes his credentials by undercutting any attempt to tie U.S. relations with Russia to human rights. Indeed, when it comes to the Magnitsky bill, it is clear he was for it before he was against it.

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Alana Goodman is absolutely correct that the Obama administration’s treatment of Chen Guangcheng is abominable. But the betrayal of dissidents is simply the bread-and-butter both of realists and the UN’s breed of internationalists, both philosophies to which Obama aspires.

In the 1970s, realists sought to kill the Jackson-Vanik Amendment which tied relations with the Soviet Union to freedom of emigration. Realists claimed that emigration—predominantly by Soviet Jewry—was not a core U.S. interest and that congressional meddling risked rapprochement with the Soviet Union. It was only after the fall of the Soviet Union that dissidents and ex-communist officials both testified as to how Jackson-Vanik de-legitimized the Soviet Union and shook it to its core. Alas, few realists are students of history. As Sen. John Kerry auditions for a second-term Obama administration secretary of state appointment, he burnishes his credentials by undercutting any attempt to tie U.S. relations with Russia to human rights. Indeed, when it comes to the Magnitsky bill, it is clear he was for it before he was against it.

The UN is little better. It is tragic that this incident from nearly a decade ago has long since disappeared from public consciousness:

“On January 25, 2003, an Iraqi man stopped a UN-marked Land Cruiser right outside the UN compound in Baghdad, pleading, ‘Save me! Save me!’ According to a CNN report of the incident, the unarmed man then boarded the UN car and refused to get out. Appearing agitated and frightened, the young man, with a closely trimmed beard and a mustache, sat inside the white UN-marked SUB for 10 minutes, the Associated Press reported. Then, according to CNN, an Iraqi guard struggled to pull him out, while an unfazed UN inspector watched from the passenger seat.”

The UN handed the man over to Saddam Hussein’s security forces; he has never been seen again. Kofi Annan did not care. For Kofi, Saddam was a man he could do business with (literally), and he wanted nothing to get in the way.

Realists will always find an excuse to ignore dissidents and dismiss their fight for freedom and liberty. Unfortunately, what these realists see as sophistication not only is amoral, but actively undercuts long-term U.S. security.

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Report: U.S. Pressured Chinese Dissident to Leave Embassy

Disgraceful beyond words:

Speaking by phone from his hospital room in Beijing on Wednesday night, a shaken Chen Guangcheng told the Associated Press that U.S. officials relayed the threat from the Chinese side.

Chen, who fled to the embassy six day ago, left under an agreement in which he would receive medical care, be reunited with his family and allowed to attend university in a safe place. He says he now fears for his safety and wants to leave.

A U.S. official denies knowledge of the threat, but says Chen was told his family would be sent back home if he stayed in the embassy.

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Disgraceful beyond words:

Speaking by phone from his hospital room in Beijing on Wednesday night, a shaken Chen Guangcheng told the Associated Press that U.S. officials relayed the threat from the Chinese side.

Chen, who fled to the embassy six day ago, left under an agreement in which he would receive medical care, be reunited with his family and allowed to attend university in a safe place. He says he now fears for his safety and wants to leave.

A U.S. official denies knowledge of the threat, but says Chen was told his family would be sent back home if he stayed in the embassy.

The news that blind activist lawyer Chen Guangcheng had left the U.S. embassy on his own volition came as a shock this morning. It now appears that it wasn’t the whole story. Why would Chen and his supporters have taken the risks they took in exchange for an “agreement” with the Chinese government that doesn’t guarantee his safety, or the safety of those who helped him escape?

As the Washington Free Beacon reported yesterday, this isn’t the first time the Obama administration has turned away a Chinese dissident seeking shelter at the U.S. embassy. And last time it happened, the story did not have a happy ending:

The office of Vice President Joe Biden overruled State and Justice Department officials in denying the political asylum request of a senior Chinese communist official last February over fears the high-level defection would upset the U.S. visit of China’s vice president, according to U.S. officials.

The defector, Wang Lijun, was turned away after 30 hours inside the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu and given over to China’s Ministry of State Security, the political police and intelligence service.

Wang has not been seen since Feb. 7 and remains under investigation. His attempt to flee China set off a major power struggle within the ruling Communist Party and led to the ouster of leftist Politburo member Bo Xilai and the arrest of his wife on murder charges.

If U.S. officials actually did pressure Chen into leaving the embassy, they just put him and his entire family in grave danger.

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Romney Weighs in on Chinese Dissident

Mitt Romney spoke out yesterday about the case of Chen Guangcheng, the blind Chinese dissident who escaped house arrest and is reportedly seeking asylum at the U.S. embassy in Beijing:

“My concern at this moment is for the safety of Chen Guangcheng and his family,” Romney said in a statement released by his campaign on Sunday. “My hope is that U.S. officials will take every measure to ensure that Chen and his family members are protected from further persecution.” …

Weighing in on Sunday, Romney said Chen’s escape “points to the broader issue of human rights in China.”

“Our country must play a strong role in urging reform in China and supporting those fighting for the freedoms we enjoy,” Romney said.

Neither the White House nor President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign has officially weighed in on the issue.

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Mitt Romney spoke out yesterday about the case of Chen Guangcheng, the blind Chinese dissident who escaped house arrest and is reportedly seeking asylum at the U.S. embassy in Beijing:

“My concern at this moment is for the safety of Chen Guangcheng and his family,” Romney said in a statement released by his campaign on Sunday. “My hope is that U.S. officials will take every measure to ensure that Chen and his family members are protected from further persecution.” …

Weighing in on Sunday, Romney said Chen’s escape “points to the broader issue of human rights in China.”

“Our country must play a strong role in urging reform in China and supporting those fighting for the freedoms we enjoy,” Romney said.

Neither the White House nor President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign has officially weighed in on the issue.

Romney is right to say that the U.S. needs to do more to pressure China on democratic reforms, but it’s probably best for the White House and Obama campaign to say as little as possible about this issue, at least until after Secretary Clinton’s meetings in Beijing this week. As Max wrote yesterday, there is no question as to what the administration should do in this case. For the sake of our principles and national interests, the U.S. has to provide shelter to Chen.

Coming on the heels of the Bo Xilai scandal, Chen’s escape is yet another massive public embarrassment that seems to reveal serious cracks in the Chinese government. Is it really possible that a blind dissident was able to not only escape house arrest, but also travel 500 miles to the U.S. embassy – days before a prescheduled meeting with top U.S. administration officials – without inside help? It certainly doesn’t seem likely. And that will no doubt make for some dicey meetings between U.S. and Chinese officials this week.

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Standing Up for Human Rights in China

The Obama administration has talked a great deal about a “pivot to Asia,” meaning, presumably a policy of getting tough with China. Now it faces an unexpected but significant test of just how tough it will get. Chen Guangcheng, a blind lawyer, has put the administration on the spot with his unlikely and daring escape from home arrest and his flight of more than 300 miles, apparently culminating in safety at the U.S. embassy in Beijing.

The Chinese security services have large helpings of egg on their face after having  let a blind man beat their tight surveillance, and in a society that values “face”–to say nothing of societal control–as much as China does, they will presumably stop at little to get him back. That could make for some uncomfortable meetings in Beijing, where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other administration officials are about to arrive. But both American honor and American interests mean that Chen must be allowed to shelter on American territory as long as he wants.

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The Obama administration has talked a great deal about a “pivot to Asia,” meaning, presumably a policy of getting tough with China. Now it faces an unexpected but significant test of just how tough it will get. Chen Guangcheng, a blind lawyer, has put the administration on the spot with his unlikely and daring escape from home arrest and his flight of more than 300 miles, apparently culminating in safety at the U.S. embassy in Beijing.

The Chinese security services have large helpings of egg on their face after having  let a blind man beat their tight surveillance, and in a society that values “face”–to say nothing of societal control–as much as China does, they will presumably stop at little to get him back. That could make for some uncomfortable meetings in Beijing, where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other administration officials are about to arrive. But both American honor and American interests mean that Chen must be allowed to shelter on American territory as long as he wants.

The U.S, is after all, the greatest champion of human rights in the world. We would have little credibility to advocate on human rights if we were to throw such a brave and prominent exponent of human rights in China–a man who has challenged the forced sterilization and abortion policies of the Communist regime–to the wolves. Just as bad, we would have little strategic credibility with China’s neighbors, who look to American leadership to stand up to Chinese adventurism–if we were to cave in and supinely allow China to get its way with someone who has sought–and deserves–our protection. However much the administration may not be happy about it, it must offer long-term protection to Chen.

 

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