Thursday, May 3, 2012



One of the big international stories over the last few weeks has been the tale of Chen Guangcheng, the blind self-taught Chinese lawyer and dissident who has been under house arrest in Shandong province for most of the last seven years primarily for his protests against forced abortions under China’s “one child” policy. In a story fully worthy of Hollywood, Mr. Chen escaped from house arrest on April 23, making it to the U.S. embassy in Beijing where he was put, in the vague words of diplomacy, under the Ambassador’s protection. The story seemed to have come to a culmination yesterday as Mr. Chen “voluntarily” left the embassy under a deal that would allow him and his family to relocate to a college town away from Shandong where he could continue his studies while the Chinese regime refrained from punishing his family and those who helped him escape and would investigate the officials who Mr. Chen claimed had mistreated him and his family. Given the lessons of history, the chances of the Chinese regime holding up its part of the “bargain” are slim; according to this morning’s (Thursday, 5/3/12’s, page A10, a follow-up page from a page A1 story) Wall Street Journal, international human rights groups have warned of the obvious: the U.S. can do little to help Mr. Chen while he remains in China. They were saying more than they thought they were saying; more on this later.

There is much that is murky about this “deal.” U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke stated “unequivocally” (Note: Diplomats don’t speak unequivocally; their job is to avoid speaking unequivocally, but I digress.) that Chen was never pressured to leave the embassy. Further, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland stated

“At no point during his time in the embassy did Chen ever request political asylum in the U.S.”

But, according to the Journal, human rights activist Zeng Jingyan stated, after speaking to Mr. Chen’s wife, Yuan Weijing

“Guangcheng wasn’t willing to leave the embassy, but he didn’t have a choice.”

Then there is the question of why Mr. Chen did not have a choice. It may have been, as reports have stated, that Chinese authorities threatened to beat his wife if he stayed in the embassy or left the country. Or it may be that, as the Journal reported, in what may be a case of diplomats failing to stick to Mr. Locke’s story,

U.S. officials said they repeatedly asked Mr. Chen if he was willing to leave the embassy and agree to a deal to move with his family with assurances of safety from Chinese officials.

So was Mr. Chen never pressured to leave the embassy, as Mr. Locke contends, or was he repeatedly asked if he were willing to leave, as Mr. Locke’s minions say? I don’t know about you, but if I were at somebody’s house too long (strictly hypothetical; we make it a practice to be the first, or among the first, to leave a party) and s/he repeatedly ask me if I were willing to leave, I would take that as pressure to leave.

And as of this morning, the story got even more murky…and shameful for the United States. Mr. Chen now reportedly claims that he wants to leave China because, among other things, no U.S. embassy staff had stayed with him to assure his protection after his release to a Beijing hospital. What Mr. Chen doesn’t realize is that even if the entire embassy staff stayed behind, his protection couldn’t be assured once he left the embassy, or maybe even if he stayed in the embassy. As the human rights groups quoted in the first paragraph of this post said, the U.S. can do little to help Mr. Chen if he remains in China. But one suspects that neither Mr. Chen nor the human rights activists know why.

We cannot protect Mr. Chen, and probably did not have the option of spiriting him out of China, even if he had wanted to leave his home country, not because of geography and not because, as the Republicans would have you believe, the Obama Administration is weak on foreign policy; despite the bluff and bluster of the GOPers, a Republican administration would have handled this situation no differently. We simply have no, or very little, leverage with China. Why? The U.S. Treasury owes the Chinese $1.18 trillion and American citizens owe the Chinese who knows how many scores or hundreds of billions more in mortgage backed and other asset backed securities. In the never-ending bout of silliness that is American consumerism, we have borrowed our way into servitude to the Chinese and thus are forced to ignore their abominable human rights record and other less savory aspects of their regime. We have no choice because we need their money, and we need their money because we feel compelled by our own collective silliness to indulge ourselves with trendy piffles and other manifestations of our lame-brained consumerism. And we do so with borrowed money. We have done this to ourselves, and the Chen Guangchengs of the world, and their families, have to suffer because we lack the character to say no to our more inane and childish impulses.


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