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    Greater China
     May 12, 2012

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The anatomy of Chen's change of heart
By Peter Lee

It must have been a bizarre feeling for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP): holding the political future of President Barack Obama in its hands.

A risky and hasty deal negotiated by the US State Department had led to the departure of Chinese rights activist Chen Guangcheng from the protection of the US Embassy in Beijing, and placed him in Chaoyang Hospital, within the baleful shadow of the People's Republic of China's (PRC) security forces.

If China's rulers had decided they wanted to see a new occupant of the White House come February 2013, bundling Chen Guangcheng out of the hospital and into a waiting van for interrogation, detention, and/or worse would probably have done


the trick.

The man who very much wants to take that seat in the White House, Mitt Romney, was poised to pounce.

On May 3, when the Chen deal experienced one of its severe and well-advertised hiccups, Romney declared:
It's also apparent, according to these reports if they're accurate, that our embassy failed to put in place the kind of verifiable measures that would assure the safety of Mr Chen and his family. If these reports are true, this is a dark day for freedom and it's a day of shame for the Obama administration. We are a place of freedom, here and around the world, and we should stand up and defend freedom wherever it is under attack. [1]
Fortunately for Obama, the PRC's security apparatus, obviously responding to orders from on high, has been treating Chen with kid gloves - though it must be pointed out this tender treatment has not extended to friends trying to visit him at the hospital, one of whom, Jiang Tianyong , was taken away for interrogation and had his ears severely boxed.

Journalists have not been welcomed at the hospital either.

This probably has less to do with limiting world access to Chen Chengguang than preventing a high-profile anti-government rumpus at the doors of the hospital.

A trend of friends and supporters visiting (or, more accurately trying to visit) Chen while he was held under illegal house arrest in the remote village of Dongshigu in central Shandong province had already created a public relations nightmare for the Chinese government.

Replicating such a scene in front of a hospital in central Beijing under the foreign media spotlight would be a spectacle the Chinese government would be extremely keen to avoid.

Meanwhile, in the hospital recovering from broken bones in his foot incurred during his escape, and a persistent case of gastroenteritis, Chen has had broad cell phone access to the foreign media, including the Associated Press, the Washington Post and the New York Times.

The net result of these intensive communications has been a media circus that has cast doubts on the deal and the honesty and competence of the State Department, and shifted the focus on the blind Chen away from his courageous activism of the past decade to his anxious and indecisive handwringing of the last two weeks.

It is indisputable that Chen escaped house arrest and came to Beijing with the intent of publicizing the intolerable treatment he and his family were suffering while under illegal house arrest in Shandong. After arriving Beijing and before entering the embassy, Chen recorded a video statement calling on Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to investigate the circumstances of his detention and deal with the local officials responsible for his ill treatment.

Then Chen entered the US Embassy on the eve of the arrival of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner for the US-China Strategic Economic Dialogue.

Again, it appears clear that Chen wished to remain in China but out of the reach of his tormenters in Shandong, and obtain guarantees for the continued safety and freedom for himself and his family. Quite reasonably, he assumed that the intercession of the United States on his behalf with the highest levels of the Chinese government was the most practical way of achieving his objectives.

Prolonged refuge in the embassy, followed by expulsion from China and eventual asylum in the United States, as occurred in the case of Fang Lizhi in 1989-1990, appears to have been off the agenda.

Instead, the US State Department and ambassador Gary Locke, with Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell on the scene and New York University professor and China legal expert Jerome Cohen assisting from afar, negotiated an unprecedented understanding with the Chinese government that would involve Chen relocating to a less hostile part of the country - possibly Tianjin - with his family to engage in legal studies.

Then confusion and uncertainty began to roil this brave project, largely fomented by Chen's friends and supporters who were dead set against the deal.

Teng Biao, the lawyer who had assisted Chen in his investigations and also defended him in Chinese court, posted the transcript of a telephone conversation with Chen in the hospital. Teng is intimately familiar with Chinese government repression, having experienced two bouts of detention, and is now residing in Guangdong under government surveillance.

Although his most recent release was achieved through US intercession at the US-China human-rights dialogue, he does not appear sanguine about the prospects for meaningful protection inside China under the American aegis.

One might say that Teng Biao is not Chen Guangcheng, and Teng's arrangement, unlike Chen's, was not negotiated at the higher levels of the US and Chinese governments with the promise of a presidential statement and official communique, and therefore the source of Teng's vociferous conviction that the deal would inevitably go bad is something of a mystery.

However, Professor Perry Link, who stood by Fang Lizhi and his family when they went through the embassy refuge process in 1989, told Asia Times Online: "Some people criticize Teng for pressing his own opinion too much. But last spring Teng was treated extremely harshly during his "disappearance", so personally I find it hard to criticize Teng too much."

From Teng's side, at least, the phone call (whose transcript was posted on an image-sharing service) reads like a scripted brief against Chen accepting the deal and staying in China.
Teng Biao: One more thing, you know what the Foreign Ministry spokesperson said about your case?

Chen Guangcheng: I don't know.

TB: Very harsh words, not an ounce of friendliness to be found in there. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Liu Weimin said, "It should be pointed out that Chen Guangcheng, a Chinese citizen, was taken by the US side to the US Embassy in Beijing via abnormal means, and the Chinese side is strongly dissatisfied with the move.

"What the US side has done has interfered in the domestic affairs of China, and the Chinese side will never accept it. China demands that the United States thoroughly investigate the event, hold relevant people accountable and ensure that such an event does not happen again." Very tough words. It is absolutely unbelievable that they will stick to their promise and not punish anyone afterwards. This promise will last at the most one to two weeks. If you stay on in China, it's going to be very dangerous for you.

TB: ... I heard you're going back to school to study, where will that be?

CGC: Yes, but I haven't decided where.

TB: Guangcheng, you absolutely must not do this. It's going to be very dangerous for you to stay on in China. Seriously.

CGC: [Silence]

TB: I suggest you get back to the embassy as soon as possible.

CGC: That's not possible now.

TB: Is the embassy not allowing you back? Or is the Chinese government not allowing you back?

CGC: I ...

TB: Guangcheng, even if you told the embassy you won't ever go back, there's still time for you to change your mind, and it would be totally understandable. Please reconsider this whole thing. You know - Kegui, Chen Hua and everyone at home is in a very dangerous situation. Pearl's been taken away. Even if you're not considering this for yourself, then at least for your family and for those that tried to help you, you should try to get back to the embassy and make your way to the US.

TB: Jinyan went online with your story. Now she's being watched too and there's no way to reach her. While Hillary Clinton is still in Beijing and while the world's still watching, there's still time for you to make amends. Any later and it will be all too late. Today I saw on the Internet that Clinton was saying that everything was being done according to your wishes and US values. Your wish is top priority. Can you please give them a call? Will you?

CGC: I understand. [2]
Chen experienced a change of heart and his supporters in the United States leapt into action, led by Bob Fu of China Aid, an non-governmental organization in Midland, Texas, that lobbies on behalf of Christian house churches in China and has close links to Chen Guangcheng. 

Continued 1 2  

Chen case exposes a shared weakness
(May 10, '12)

Chen's switch spoils daring US dance (May 4, '12)

Doubts fly as US envoy to Pakistan quits

2. Iran queries Obama's pact with Karzai

3. Thai army secretly plans for the worst

4. Plutonomy and the precariat

5. World powers rush to plunge Syria into war

6. Waiting for Copernicus

7. Rumor aside, a smooth transition is assured

8. US: China's aggression written in the stars

9. Pyongyang paints history in its own image

10. Cyprus gas project goes ahead

(24 hours to 11:59pm ET, May 10, 2012)


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