Blind Chinese dissident saved, but how?....
Alana Goodman of Commentary Blog summarizes our diplomatic gaucherie neatly. Her money paragraph:
At the embassy, Chen said he came under tremendous pressure from American officials—“not those from the embassy but others” —to leave the diplomatic facility as quickly as possible. From the very beginning, he said, the assumption was that he would stay in China. “I had no information, I got no phone calls from friends, I was isolated,” he told me, his voice trembling. “Then I heard about the threat that my wife would be sent back home to Shandong if I didn’t leave the embassy. So I left.”
Here is more, from a friend of Chen, as reported by The Cable:
U.S. officials have insisted that Chen left the embassy of his own volition after agreeing to the terms of a deal U.S. officials struck with the Chinese government.
But Fu said Chen's real motivation was fear.
"According to my conversations last night with Mr. Chen," Fu testified, "the U.S. officials relayed to Chen a message from the Chinese side that they would harm his wife. And it was in response to this threat that Chen reluctantly agreed to leave the embassy."
He continued: "Chen was talked to by a U.S. government official before he left the embassy and he was told it was a Chinese government message, that the Chinese government wanted to convey the message through the U.S. government official that if he did not leave the embassy on May 2, he will not be able to see his wife and children again."
"Chen said, after hearing that message from the Chinese government, conveyed by U.S. officials, his heart was heavy and he felt he had no other choice but to walk out of the U.S. embassy," said Fu.
U.S. officials deny that they conveyed any physical or legal threats to Chen. In a statement issued Wednesday and repeated Thursday by the White House, however, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland acknowledged, "U.S. interlocutors did make clear that if Chen elected to stay in the Embassy, Chinese officials had indicated to us that his family would be returned to Shandong, and they would lose their opportunity to negotiate for reunification."
The State Dept. denies all this, saying that Chen wanted to stay in China. To be fair to State's case, here is a column by historian-blogger Walter Russell Mead, defending State's first deal. Mead sees the center of the struggle as between urban modernizers versus rural atavists, and the Americans caught in between. But truly telling as to the human drama of this episode, as noted by Mead as to Chen's courage, is that Chen fell 200 times on his way from the countryside to Beijing.
Here is a WSJ editorial, refuting State's claim re Chen's desires:
So much, then, for the feel-good story about smart U.S. diplomacy in which everyone comes out a winner. Instead we have a case of claims and counter-claims—with the potential to tarnish America's reputation as a defender of human rights. In one interview after he left the embassy, Mr. Chen accused U.S. officials of passing along Chinese government threats to harm his wife. U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke denies that claim, and Mr. Chen has also said that the U.S. protected his interests.
Mr. Chen's apparent inconsistencies may be forgiven. After being injured during a traumatic escape from house arrest, he was vulnerable to Chinese government manipulation. The Chinese Foreign Ministry agreed to bring Mr. Chen's wife and daughter to Beijing to encourage him to accept the deal. But it then threatened to send them back to Shandong, where they faced violent retribution from local officials, if he didn't leave the embassy.
This must have left Mr. Chen feeling that his back was against the wall. It didn't help that the U.S. didn't allow Mr. Chen to have a cell phone or call his friends freely while in the embassy. It also didn't help that Mr. Chen says the U.S. pressed him to make a quick decision, almost certainly so the issue could be settled before Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's arrival in Beijing for a Strategic and Economic Dialogue.
Once Mr. Chen left the embassy and called fellow dissidents, they expressed doubts about the deal. U.S. officials promised to stay with him in the hospital but then disappeared. It's hardly surprising that he grew anxious once he was back under the thumb of Chinese police.
In a capstone for the hapless State Dept., an American Christian activist called a congressional committee to secure a cellphone guarantee that Chen can leave; he will be offered a university fellowship upon his arrival here. So if a mere activist with a cellphone could get Congress to make State show some spine, why couldn't State have shown spine in the first place?
In past administrations, the US has done worse: think of the atrocity that Eric Holder oversaw in 2000 as deputy A-G: the pre-dawn commando raid by INS thugs to kidnap 5-year old Elian Gonzalez from the home of his Miami relatives--at gunpoint. They returned him to his father, a helpless pawn in Fidel Castro's chess game, who had not complained when his ex-wife took their son in a small boat to cross the Caribbean. Remember this horrific photo that captured the outrage? Read the article in the link, and be reminded of the reason for Clinton's contemptible decision: placating Fidel Castro, who in return did NOTHING for us. As for Elian, instead of growing up free, the dying wish of his mother, he grew up a political toy for Fidel.
But in earlier times the US has also done better, writes AEI scholar Michael Auslin: After the 1989 Tianenmen Square massacre, US Amb. James Lilley, a great China hand, kept top dissident Fang Lizhi safe inside the US Embassy for a year, until Fang was allowed to emigrate.
Bottom Line. Chalk up another fiasco for the State Department and this administration.
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