Chen Changed Mind or the US Changed Plan?
By Cao Changqing（曹長青）
What is the truth behind the different reports regarding Chen Guangcheng’s leaving of the U.S. Embassy?
According to the initial report, "Chen Guangcheng left the US Embassy willingly". Was it Mr. Chen’s voluntary decision or a reluctant one? During the two days immediately following Chen’s departure from the US embassy, there were apparently discrepancies between what Mr. Chen said, what the U.S. State Department said and what the Diplomats said. Then whose words were closer to the truth? Who should be responsible for the situation that caused distress to Mr. Chen and the deadlock between the U.S. and the Chinese government? Of course, first and foremost, it is the communist Chinese government’s persecution of Mr. Chen that led his fled to the US Embassy, however, the U.S. embassy should also take considerable responsibility after the news broke out. Why?
First of all, Mr. Chen cannot get into the US Embassy without being helped by officials from the embassy. The US Ambassador to China Gary Locke has admitted at a press conference that diplomats from the embassy came out to meet Mr. Chen and took him into the embassy with their own car. It is obvious that nobody can "break into" the US Embassy.
Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton told Fox News that he believed the highest level of the US State Department should have been informed Chen’s situation and agreed to take him into the Embassy.
My understanding is that by taking Mr. Chen into the Embassy means to be ready to grand him political asylum, as it is a commonsense that people who seek protection from an embassy intend to apply for political asylum.
There is ground to be found should the Secretary of State Mrs. Clinton have personally approved to take Mr. Chen in. For Mrs. Clinton had appealed four times before to the Chinese authorities for the release of Mr. Chen from jail and later the house arrest. She had expressed considerable sympathy for Mr. Chen’s case. Of course, any normal human being would feel sad and angry to hear a blind man, a self-taught lawyer, being cruelty persecuted by his government simply because he had tried to protect local villagers’ rights to keep their unborn babies in a country that one-child-per-family is a mandate.
However, what had gone astray after making such an initial humanitarian effort? It is obvious that someone more powerful than Mrs. Clinton who had different views about Mr. Chen’s plight and the diplomatic situation interfered with the case and made a different decision that led Mr. Chen’s leaving of the US Embassy. Who is more powerful than Mrs. Clinton regarding this event? There’s nobody but the US President Obama.
Without even regard for Mr. Obama’s political background, it is easy to see why President Obama could have decided to return Mr. Chen to the hand of a dictatorship. During the period that the international media had speculated Mr. Chen had fled to the US Embassy, President Obama had hold a joint news conference with the visiting Japanese Prime Minister, in which he was asked Mr. Chen’s whereabouts and the possible outcome of the case. President Obama not only dodged questions regarding the blind man, but also blindly praised policies of the Chinese government without mentioning anything of the poor human rights records of China.
Therefore, it is not baseless for me to assume that President Obama had personally requested the State Department to solve the issue with high regard for the Chinese authorities and put them in priority.
Then we saw the case unfold: first, the US Secretary of State issued a statement saying Mr. Chen had voluntarily left the U.S. Embassy; then Ambassador Locke explained at a news conference that he had asked Mr. Chen three times if he wanted to leave before they took him out of the US protection and return to the Chinese hands. Here Mr. Locke gave a detailed description: Chen suddenly stood up and said: ’Go! Let’s go!’ To further rationalize the State Department’s decision, Mr. Locke emphasized that Chen had never asked for political asylum but expressed his wish to stay in China during his six-day stay at the US Embassy. It sounded that the US diplomats had fully complied with Mr. Chen’s own intention to leave the Embassy.
However, almost immediately following Mr. Chen’s dramatic return to the Chinese hands, CNN and other international media reported that Mr. Chen had felt "pressured" to leave the US Embassy, and now feared about he and his family’s safety, and he now wanted to go to the United States. Mr. Chen told CNN that US officials had informed him that if he did not leave the Embassy, his wife and children, who had already been brought to Beijing, would be sent back to Shandong, Chen’s hometown, and the US government could not guarantee their safety. It was under such distress he decided leave the Embassy and go to Beijing’s Chaoyang Hospital to meet with his family. And it was only after talking with his wife he learned the horrible ordeals his family had experienced after his flee from 18 months of house arrest——several of his family members were severely beaten up, and his nephew was arrested, and the local authorities even installed seven video camera in his house.
Mr. Chen’s onetime lawyer, Teng Biao, and friend Zeng Jinyan also publicized through the internet Mr. Chen and his wife’s fears at the hospital and their wishes to leave China. And soon after on May 3rd Chen made a direct plea to the US Congress through a speaker phone and expressed clearly he wanted to go to the US with his family. Now it appears that Mr. Chen’s so-called “voluntary leave” of the US Embassy was not so accurate, or at least it was not the full picture of the situation.
Former US ambassador to the UN, Mr. John Bolton, said to Fox news that "We are committed by our own law to grant political asylum to people who have a well-founded fear of persecution, if he asks.” It implies to me that the US Embassy did not comply with it’s own law and prescriptive practice on this matter.
Someone might point out at once that Mr. Chen did not ask for political asylum (such was the US Embassy’s claim as well), therefore, the US Embassy cannot persist in giving him protection, and sending him out of the US Embassy was not the fault of the US side.
I think it is deplorable for the Obama administration to make such an evasive claim for the following reasons.
Firstly, the U. S. government is founded on the principal of protecting individual rights. This principal is the highest of American values, a pride of the United States, a pride of American diplomats who represent the US government. Even though Mr. Chen is not an American citizen, the US officials still should make their best efforts to protect him when such a fragile individual were facing an authoritarian regime’s brutal persecution. Talking about protecting "rights", the first and foremost important thing is to let the individual know what rights he has.
Once accepted Mr. Chen to enter the Embassy, the US authorities became responsible to let Mr. Chen know what rights he has and how the US can protect him if he asks for political asylum. Obviously, the US Embassy did not do so throughout from the beginning to the end.
I think even most Americans may not know there is a law requiring the US government to provide protection for those being politically persecuted, let alone Mr. Chen, a none-American, a blind man (who obviously cannot read well as a normal person) who had until recently always lived in an isolated village where officials could beat him up at their whims, where visitors, even American journalists, could be beaten up if they tried to see Chen and his family. This blind man never had any rights throughout his life. How could he know what rights he has? How dare of him to ask anything from the US Embassy? What all he had was the trust in America, in Americans.
Facing such a vulnerable human being, any truly sympathetic American diplomat should make his effort to help him, provide him with as much information as possible. Unfortunately, it is obvious that Mr. Chen did not receive any this kind of information at the Embassy.
Secondly, If Mr. Chen was not very clear about the meaning of "entering into" and "leaving" the US Embassy, those American diplomats and legal advisers from the State Department should have known it clearly. Just as Mr. John Bolton has pointed out that " once he crosses that doorway into the American embassy, the whole world is different. In Chinese eyes, in Chinese official eyes, this is virtually an act of treason."
If the Chinese regime does not promise the Americans anything about the safety of Mr. Chen’s family, how could they guarantee anything about Mr. Chen’s safety? Were all the American diplomats at the Embassy too dumb to understand this simplest common sense? Of course not. They certainly clear what Mr. Chen might face once out of the US protection. But under the pressure of the White House they had to sacrifice Mr. Chen and play a very lousy show that convinced nobody.
Thirdly, if the US government began to perceive it was a "mistake" to bring Mr. Chen into the Embassy after it exploded in the international media, it should take care of the aftermath itself, as the United States, the torch of the free world, should and expected to do. It is a shame of the Obama administration to leave a vulnerable individual at the mercy of a thugocracy whose criminal record we all know.
It is understandable for the communist Chinese authorities to hold Mr. Chen’s wife and children for ransom, a thuggish regime’s nature. But it is jaw-dropping that the US Embassy also adopted the same practice in this case, parroting Chinese officials’ threats to Mr. Chen and frightened him to leave the Embassy. It is only too obvious that claiming Chen left voluntarily is dishonest.
Some other details also showed that Chen’s leaving was under pressure. According Ambassador Garry Locke, he and several other diplomats had surrounded Mr. Chen, waiting for him to make final decisions to leave the Embassy. Then a few minutes later Mr. Chen said with ’excitement’ “ Let’s go.” Saying this is an action of his volition? How could one make an almost life and death decision in only a few minutes? Wasn’t the encircling of the group of people a pressure?
Why do they need Mr. Chen to make the decision in such a hurry? Why didn’t the Embassy allow him more time to think? Why the once sympathetic Ambassador turned to be pushy on Chen’s leave? The only explanation is that he had received a new instruction from above that requested him to get rid of Chen as soon as possible.
At the Embassy’s news conference, Ambassador Locke also declined to answer whether the Embassy had intended to have Mr. Chen back if he left. And the most unbelievable thing was as it has been disclosed at the Congressional hearing that the deal of Chen’s leaving of the Embassy made by the two governments has no written document at all, only verbal-exchange. Everyone knows that the communist regime cannot comply with written promises, how could the American government believe that this time they would abide by their own spoken words? No, the American diplomats probably did not even think about this matter, all they hurried to do was to hoax Chen leave.
As far as I understand, there has never been similar deals made between a democratic country and a dictatorial regime, for there is no way to restrain authoritarian governments’ behaviors toward their dissidents. Therefore, the so-called ’agreement’ makes no logical sense at all.
To speak fairly, Ambassador Locke and Secretary Clinton had been sincere and sympathetic in letting Mr. Chen into the US Embassy and wanting to help him. Unfortunately, they eventually yield to higher authorities in the White house.
The US Embassy’s action prompted me to recall a scene in Soul Mountain, the Nobel prize winning novel (which I loath) by Chinese-French author Gao Xingjian, in which the protagonist "I" picked up an abandoned, deaf-mute child on the roadside out of compassion, and carried him in "my" arms. In complete trust and reliance, the child felt asleep in "my" bosom. But "I" soon felt the burden and responsibility unbearable. So, seeing nobody around, "I" surreptitiously abandoned the child on roadside again.
This is the story of Chen Guangcheng today!
(This is only part of the original article in Chinese published on May 5, 2012. caochangqing.com)
Cao Changqing is a dissident Chinese writer and political commentator who fled to the United States in 1988 after the newspaper he edited were shutdown by the authorities for calling the then paramount dictator Deng Xiaoping to retire.