A previous deal reached with Chinese officials Wednesday fell apart within hours, after U.S. diplomats were barred from visiting Chen in Beijing’s Chaoyang hospital. He was taken there after leaving the protection of the U.S. Embassy compound. U.S. diplomats, as well as Chen, thought they had been promised regular and easy access to him.
As with that deal, the new agreement leaves significant obstacles and numerous questions unanswered. In the balance hangs the Obama administration’s record on human rights, which is under heavy criticism, as well as the health of relations between the world’s two leading powers. Most pressingly at stake is the safety of the 40-year-old Chen and his family.
There was evidence Friday to suggest that China may not uphold its end of the bargain, even though allowing Chen to study in the United States could permit Beijing a face-saving way out of the standoff.
Supporters trying to visit Chen at the hospital were roughly turned away, with some saying they were severely beaten by plainclothes police. China’s state-controlled newspapers also launched scathing attacks on Chen and U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke, who helped Chen enter the embassy April 26 after his dramatic escape from de facto house arrest in his village in Shandong province. In addition, some of Chen’s allies remain under house arrest.
The public backlash against the anti-Chen, anti-Locke editorials was so fierce that, in a bizarre and unusual move, one newspaper, The Beijing News, seemed to apologize later on its Sina Weibo microblogging account. The Beijing News, sister paper of the Beijing Daily, posted a black-and-white photograph of a sad-looking clown, and the words; “In the still of the deep night, removing that mask of insincerity, we say to our true selves, ‘I am sorry.’ Goodnight.”
Media analysts said the words, and the photo of someone in clown makeup, indicated the paper’s editors were telling readers they were forced to write the offending editorial.
In a news conference Friday, the top Foreign Ministry official in charge of U.S. affairs, Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai, twice refused to discuss Chen’s case or even acknowledge a deal on the dissident’s future, even though Cui is thought to have been China’s lead negotiator. China gave no assurances about when Chen might be able to leave, or whether he could return.
“The disparity between high-level assurances and the reality on the ground is stark,” said Catherine Baber, Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific deputy director. “While the Chinese and the U.S. negotiated on Chen and his family, Chinese authorities were targeting his friends and supporters — including beating Jiang Tianyong,” who tried to visit Chen in the hospital.