China Relents on Chinese Dissident

There has been a flurry of accusations that the Obama administration botched the case of blind Chinese dissident lawyer Chen Guangcheng when he was, for all practical purposes, “handed over” to the Chinese earlier this week without concrete assurances that he would not be prosecuted, persecuted, or worse.

Chen, who has protested China’s laws on forced abortions and sterilizations of women — part of its one-child-per-family policy — had spent a week at the US embassy after escaping from house arrest that lasted more than 18 months. He has been in a Chinese hospital since his departure from the U.S. embassy.

Republicans, including GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, were at the forefront of the criticism, saying that if reports that Chen had been persuaded by the U.S. to leave the embassy were true, it was “a day of shame for the Obama administration”.

Human rights activists and many Democrats, including this writer, were also disappointed.

Even senior American officials privately acknowledged missteps in the handling of the case.

The New York Times:

The United States failed to guarantee access to Mr. Chen at the hospital, [the officials] said, leaving him isolated and fearful that China would renege on its pledge not to harass him and to allow him to resume his legal studies.

Additionally, the Chen case threatened to impact the delicate, high-level US-China talks taking place in Beijing.

But today, according to the Times, the State Department announced that “China has agreed to accept an application by the dissident lawyer Chen Guangcheng to travel to the United States as a student.” The Times also says that this may point “to a quick resolution of an eight-day diplomatic crisis over human-rights issues that has deeply embarrassed the White House and threatened to further sour relations with Beijing.”

The BBC:

US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement that Mr. Chen had been offered a fellowship from an American university – later identified as New York University (NYU).

She said Mr Chen could be accompanied by his wife and children, and that the US expected Beijing to process their application for travel “expeditiously”.

“The United States government would then give visa requests for him and his immediate family priority attention,” the statement added.

But don’t break out the champagne glasses yet.

The “road” between Beijing and New York University could be a long one for Chen and his family. A road that might be littered with the landmines of politics, failed diplomacy, intrigue, mistrust and the plain unpredictability of the Chinese government.

Even Secretary Clinton cautions, “there is more work to do, so we will stay engaged as this moves forward.”

But let’s hope for the best.

Read more here.

Image by www.shutterstock.com

Author: DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist