FPI Bulletin: U.S. Must Hold China to its Promises in Chen Guangcheng Case

May 2, 2012

From FPI Director of Democracy and Human Rights Ellen Bork

In her statement of May 2, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that  “making [the Chinese government’s] commitments a reality is the next crucial task” and committed the U.S. to “remaining engaged with Mr. Chen and his family in the days, weeks, and years ahead.” 

She might have added “hours.”  The deal the U.S. negotiated with China over the fate of Chen Guangcheng, the “barefoot lawyer” has already been called into question.  The day after he left the protection of the U.S. Embassy for a hospital as the first stage in a deal that was to see him reunited with his family and take up study at a university, news reports, and Mr. Chen himself, appear to challenge the understanding that he wishes to remain in China.  

The Obama administration must immediately clear up any doubt about Mr. Chen’s wishes.  Moreover, the deal the U.S. struck with China regarding Chen’s “humane treatment” in future appears not to have addressed the fate of the people who helped Chen in his flight.  U.S. officials simply “raised” the issue and urged that there be no retribution against them.  Much more needs to be done for them. 

Chen Guangcheng’s case represents a major change from the way dissidents seeking American protection have been handled in the past – both by the U.S. and by China.  If Chen’s case is to set a meaningful precedent with positive implications for human rights, his relocation – which was apparently at his instigation – must not be the equivalent of internal exile.  There are no charges pending against him, he should be free to meet with whomever he pleases, including reporters. 

The U.S. commitment to remain engaged with Mr. Chen and his family is a major undertaking.  It will not be easy and more conflicts with the Chinese government are bound to occur.  The Obama administration should meet each of them with determination and the confidence that acting in Mr. Chen’s best interest is synonymous with the Chinese people’s desire for human rights.

Questions have been raised about what Mr. Chen actually said to Secretary Clinton when she called him.  Whether he said “I want to kiss you,” as U.S. diplomats report, or “I want to see you,” as another account has it, Secretary Clinton should grant Mr. Chen’s wish.  She should call on him at the hospital and follow up on China’s commitments to Mr. Chen.  Now would also be a good time to test the sincerity of Prime Minister Wen Jiabao’s support for political reform.  What better indication of that could there be than to ask him to commit personally to Chen Guangcheng’s continued ability to live and work free from fear inside China?

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