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.

14 comments

  1. sean woo says:

    Right on. The best piece on Chen yet on the blogosphere or any other media outlet. Well done. s

  2. Jasmine says:

    There’s a petition going around that asks President Obama to provide asylum or another diplomatic form of immunity that I thought you might be interested in. You can read it here: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/president-obama-protect-chen-guangcheng/.

    It would be great if you could sign the petition and share it with others you know who would be willing to help.

    Thank you so much!

  3. david says:

    When Governor Orville Faubus stood in the schoolhouse door, he was violating a direct order of the US Supreme Court in favor of his hometown segregationist thugs. The Chinese federal government appears to have a similar problem with Shandong. Cut them, and our surprisingly adept Secretary of State, some slack, and let the game play out in Chen’s favor, so he can move himself and his family to Beijing, and perhaps in a few months to Parsippany or Monterey Park or wherever.

    This is not so very different from the Bo situation, with a local warlord trying to make national policy. It’s in all our interests that national policy, a tolerant national Chinese policy, work out. It could even extend to the DPRK border.

  4. Duke of Qin says:

    The so-called “Chinese” Communist Party is an organization of cowardly, avaricious, race traitors. The deliberate murder of beautiful Han children by these Hanjian in service to their nihilistic bolshevist ideology that deems the Han race of less value than filthy barbarians is an abomination without measure. When the day of reckoning comes, every Bolshevik who hand a hand in tormenting Chen will meet their ends swinging from the street lights.

  5. Ivan says:

    The message is clear: don’t seek refuge at the US embassy if you’re a dissident. China’s “well-bred doormat” indeed.

  6. Sonagi says:

    “The Chinese federal government appears to have a similar problem with Shandong.”

    China doesn’t have a federal government. It has a national government. There is a difference. Though China has provincial and city governments, they have little autonomy. One need not speak a word of Chinese to understand how the Communist Party is more powerful than appointed provincial heads and city mayors. Just watch local TV newscasts and notice the pecking order. If the local Communist Party chief did something newsworthy that day, such as receive an honored guest or visit a construction site, he will be featured first on the local newscast, before any news coverage of the mayor. At city government meetings attended by the local CCP head, the mayor, and vice-mayors, the CCP chief sits at the head of the table and does most of the talking on camera. As for your implied statement that Chen’s house arrest is an act by Shandong Provincial government in defiance of Beijing,could you please clarify?

  7. Dan Ó C says:

    Excellent article. The US and other democratic states, if the promotion and protection of human rights is truly a priority and not just rhetoric to lubricate trade deals, ought to give as much protection as possible to human rights defenders such as Chen. All too often that protection is tempered by so-called ‘realpolitik'; at least this particular example has shed light on what is a rather unfortunate and generalised tendency.

  8. Glans says:

    Chen Guangcheng can apply to study abroad, says Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin. Chris Buckley and Andrew Quinn report for Reuters from Beijing.

  9. Joshua says:

    So Clinton flies home, tells Congress that a solution is at hand, Chen hands in his visa application, and around mid-November, he’s denied and hauled off to the Laogai leaving his family no livelihood.

    Problem solved!

  10. Gray Hat says:

    I recommend you read Walter Russell Mead’s subsequent essay, “The China Syndrome,” for astute and compassionate insight into a very difficult situation. On other occasions I have been happy to throw brickbats at the USG, but not this time.

  11. Glans says:

    New York University has invited Chen Guangcheng to be a visiting scholar, says the wire staff at CNN.

  12. Bob Violence says:

    I don’t expect he’ll be prevented from leaving the country; this sort of “solution” — allowing a prominent dissident to leave the country, with the implicit or explicit understanding that s/he will be subject to continued harassment and detention should they reject the opportunity — is a popular one with the Chinese government. Fang Lizhi seems to have established the pattern, and many others — Wang Dan, Wang Youcai, Yang Jianli, Wei Jingsheng, Gao Yaojie, Rebiya Kadeer, Yu Jie — have followed, along with instances of forced exile like Han Dongfang and Wang Wanxing. I just hope Chen is prepared for the fact that he will probably not be allowed back into China, even for family emergencies and the like.

  13. Glans says:

    Chen Guangcheng is believed to have left China on a flight bound for the US. Believed by whom, you ask? Believed by the CNN wire staff.

  14. Glans says:

    Chen has arrived in the US, says the CNN wire staff. Sources close to OFK, who requested anonymity because they are not authorized to talk to commenters, say that Joshua Stanton admires Secretary Clinton and plans to vote for the re-election of President Obama.

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