The Washington Post

Chen Guangcheng’s fate: Why should we trust China to keep its word?

A handout photo from the U.S. Embassy Beijing Press office shows U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke talking on a mobile phone as he accompanies blind activist Chen Guangcheng in a car, in Beijing, May 2, 2012. (HANDOUT/REUTERS)

As a result, “The United States government expects that the Chinese government will expeditiously process his applications for these documents, and make accommodations for his current medical condition.”

I don’t speak fluent diplo, but sure hope that means just the opposite, because like a lot of us who are worried sick for Chen, I’m thinking that sounds iffy in the extreme, and hate to see Clinton get on that plane without him. If he really has to go back to the village where he was held and beaten to apply, how can that go anything but wrong?

Of course, if anything happens to Chen or his family, it’s on Clinton and on President Obama, and I’m sure no one involved is taking the situation at all lightly.

But if the Chinese didn’t initially let U.S. officials into the hospital to see Chen, as promised, and have already broken their word to him and to us, why would they keep it once Clinton’s plane is out of sight?

Not because our statement says we expect them to, that’s for sure. And China’s latest statement on Chen sounds like “buzz off,” doesn’t it? “Human rights should not be a disturbance in state-to-state relations,’’ it says. “It should not be used to interfere in another country’s internal affairs.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a press conference in Beijing on May 4, 2012. Clinton said that she saw "progress" in resolving a row over Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, and was "encouraged" by a statement by Beijing. (SHANNON STAPLETON/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

But what we know for sure is that Chen is not only a blind man who scaled a fence and escaped his oppressive captors, live-action hero style, but someone who has long put his life on the line while standing up for women’s health.

Yes, the “human rights” he’s an activist for involve a woman’s basic human right not to be coerced into abortion or sterilization under the strict Chinese laws limiting childbearing.

In the United States, much of the most overt support for Chen comes from those who oppose abortion rights, though this would seem to be one of the rare places where those on all sides of the abortion issue surely agree.

And in China, I hope the officials we have every reason to mistrust at least care enough about their country’s image to do the right thing for this brave man and his family.

Melinda Henneberger is a Post political writer and anchors the paper’s ‘She the People’ blog. Follow her on Twitter at @MelindaDC.

Melinda Henneberger has been writing about politics and culture for the Washington Post since 2011.



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