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Right Turn
Posted at 11:54 AM ET, 05/03/2012

The Chen Guangcheng debacle

As more information comes out from China human rights activists and China analysts briefed by the State Department and/or in touch with journalists in China, the more haphazard does the administration’s conduct regarding Chen Guangcheng appear. John Bolton, a former ambassador to the United Nations, put it this way: “This is diplomatic malpractice. Chen was in the embassy for six days, ample time for a careful weighing of his options. Unless the State Department is prepared to place the blame on Chen, how could U.S. officials been so blind to reality?”

As of now, the U.S government is not getting to Chen directly. U.S. officials are even having trouble making phone calls to him, but the State Department hopes to be in contact with him tomorrow. (The Beijing press corps actually has better access to him at this point.) The notion that we can offer protection to him when we can’t make calls to him at our discretion tells you something about the “deal” we struck with the Chinese authorities.

Moreover, it doesn’t appear that much forethought was given to what would happen after Chen left the embassy. A China hand tells me that when Chen was taken Wednesday to a Beijing hospital, U.S. officials “were told to leave the hospital because ‘visiting hours were over,’ which sounds like complete [expletive] to me and something they definitely should have pushed back against.”

Beyond that, U.S. officials seemed ready to accept skimpy promises from the Chinese government with few concrete details. Bolton observes: “I think State was desperate to ‘solve’ the Chen problem before the Secretary [of State Hillary Clinton] arrived in Beijing, thus paving the way for this debacle. It is a case of focusing on the capillary at the expense of the big picture.”

It is also a case of rushing to meet a deadline.

Heather Wilson, a former New Mexico congresswoman, a national security staffer in the George H.W. Bush White House and a Senate candidate in New Mexico, had this reaction via e-mail: “The State Department appears to have rushed and mishandled the departure of dissident Chen Guangcheng from the American Embassy in China. US officials may have deceived Chen and accepted skimpy verbal assurances from the Chinese government in order to be done with what they considered to be an unwanted distraction before the Secretary of State arrived in China.”

There is evidence to substantiate Wilson’s assessment. Jerome Cohen, the lawyer assisting Chen, has indicated that there weren’t a lot of detailed worked out before the release. The China hand tells me that U.S. officials were “in a big hurry to resolve things yesterday and left some pretty significant loose ends flapping in the wind. This has obviously come back to bite them, and more importantly put Chen and his family back at the tender mercies of the Chinese party-state.”

Clinton and other high-ranking U.S. official proceeded with their meetings. In opening remarks before her talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Clinton made some vague remarks that “all governments have to answer our citizens’ aspirations for dignity and the rule of law and that no nation can or should deny those rights.” Chen wasn’t mentioned, and far be it that a human rights disgrace would prevent Clinton from doing business with Chen’s tormentors.

UPDATE (12;15 p.m.): Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, just released a statement:

It should have been obvious to U.S. officials all along that there is no way to guarantee Mr. Chen’s safety so long as he is within reach of the Chinese police state. The U.S. should not have given in to Chinese pressure for Chen to be taken out of the safety of the U.S. embassy.
This case is a high-profile reminder of the terrible human rights situation in China that too often has gone unchallenged by the United States. Time and again, U.S. officials have chosen not to raise the Chinese regime’s abuse of dissidents, brutal forced abortion policy, suppression of free speech, and denial of basic human rights.
The Administration must support Mr. Chen’s freedom to choose where he and his family can live in safety. Failing to ensure Mr. Chen’s safety would send a negative message to all those around the world struggling against oppression, and make them question whether the United States will stand with them or their oppressors.”

By  |  11:54 AM ET, 05/03/2012

 
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