The Chen Guangcheng Disgrace

By all accounts, Wang Lijun, who was Bo Xilai’s police in Chongqing, was also a thug. Under the right circumstances, he might have been eligible for relief under the Convention Against Torture, but as a persecutor of others, he would have had a difficult job proving his eligibility for asylum. It was disturbing to see our consulate in Chengdu seem to snooker Wang back into the loving arms of the ChiComs, but it wasn’t tragic. Wang might have provided valuable intelligence, but his was not the cause on which to expend too much diplomatic capital. The Chinese people must sense that his cause is little more than an internecine struggle with other thugs.

Still, one could not help feeling some pride that even a neo-Maoist nationalist would turn to America for safety when the Black Maria came for him. It speaks volumes about how Chinese really feel — or felt, rather — about America in the privacy of their minds that they still turn to us in times of need, despite all of the anti-American propaganda men like Wang and Bo have produced of late.

Chen Guangcheng’s case is a tragedy. Chen is a hero to many Chinese, and rightfully so.

Chen’s predicament — his improbable flight to hoped-for freedom — has thrilled the many Chinese who are savvy enough to get around Internet censorship to learn about it. And it has reaffirmed for his supporters the qualities they have long admired: Chen displays a determination for upholding the law while exuding a charisma that reassures those around him.

“He’s just the most extraordinary person,” activist blogger He Peirong said Friday, four days after she picked up a bloodied Chen outside his village and sped toward Beijing and shortly before she was detained by police for helping him.

“He never gives up. He’s very spirited, willful and optimistic,” she said.

His principled steeliness was on display in a video statement recorded while he was in hiding last week. In it, he calmly catalogs the mistreatment of him, his wife, his 6-year-old daughter and his mother while under house arrest. He names the officials who took part in the abuse and then demands an investigation and the protection of his family members, whose whereabouts are not known.

“I also ask that the Chinese government safeguard the dignity of law and the interests of the people, as well as guarantee the safety of my family members,” Chen said.

The 40-year-old Chen is emblematic of a new breed of activists that the Communist Party finds threatening. Often from rural and working-class families, these “rights defenders,” as they are called, are unlike the students and intellectuals from the elite academies and major cities who led the Tiananmen Square democracy movement.

The backgrounds of these new activists have helped them tap into the simmering grievances about a rich-poor gap, farmland expropriations, corruption and unbridled official power that are fueling the 180,000 protests that experts estimate rock China every year. [Washington Post]

It’s still unclear what, exactly, Chen told our diplomats in Beijing. It’s even less clear what our diplomats told Chen, and on what basis they told him. What investigation did they do of how Chen had been treated by the police goons who invaded and surrounded his home, and who abused his wife and daughter? Did we encourage Chen to return to the Chinese government’s custody, knowing full well that Chen and his family were under severe duress? Did our diplomats pressure Chen to leave the embassy, as his lawyers allege? Could the stupidity, incompetence, and cynicism of our diplomats possibly be as breathtaking as they seem? Have we become, as John Bolton puts it, China’s “well-bred doormat?”

My sense is that it’s too early to be certain, so let’s establish as much certainty as we can. That’s why Congress has the power to issue subpoenas and compel testimony. When Hillary Clinton returns from Beijing, she should be given enough time to unpack and freshen up before being summoned to testify. She should bring Ambassador Locke with her. It is just possible — but difficult — to imagine a circumstance in which his resignation does not become an imperative.

For the Chinese people to view our nation as a refuge and a political model for their own society is of inestimable value. Today, they must be swelling with cynicism and resentment. The Fifty-Cent Army, whose stock in trade is to argue that we are no better than them, will have a field day with this. Rightly or wrongly, it will be marketed and perceived as a capitulation of everything we stand for. It will also be a terrible setback for Chen Guangcheng, for his innocent wife and child, and for all of the other Chen Guangchengs who are fighting and suffering against terrible odds to moderate the brutality of their rulers.