As word comes that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has finished her summit without cementing a face-saving deal for Chen Guangcheng to “visit” the U.S. along the lines Right Turn reported yesterday, we should not lose track of how we got to this point.
Over the last couple days human rights activists, conservative lawmakers and Mitt Romney have leveled two criticisms of the Obama administration’s handling of the Chen Guangcheng episode: The resolution was rushed so as not to interfere with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Beijing, and little care was taken as to specific steps to be taken after his release, including protection for him in the hospital. A former foreign policy official put it, “What they really cared about was getting him out of the embassy so his presence didn’t overshadow Hillary Clinton’s visit.
Now the administration officials are coming forward to admit these two rather egregious missteps.
As the State Department tried frantically to reassess the options for Mr. Chen, who is now at a hospital in Beijing being treated for an injured foot, senior American officials privately acknowledged missteps in the handling of the case. The United States failed to guarantee access to Mr. Chen at the hospital, they 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.
The diplomats also rushed their negotiations with the Chinese government to try to resolve the situation before the start of two days of talks with China on economic and security issues, led by Mrs. Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, these officials said. That left no time to obtain firm, detailed assurances from Chinese officials on how they would treat Mr. Chen, a blind lawyer and activist who had been exposed to years of house arrest and beatings in his home village in eastern China and last month escaped to the United States Embassy in Beijing.
This is reprehensible. It is also inconceivable that Clinton herself was not directing a situation of this importance. A conservative Asian expert put it: “If she left the decisions to subordinates, it’s dereliction of duty.”
When you think about it, the idea that Chen had to be taken out of the embassy to a hospital for a foot injury is a bit preposterous. Certainly medical equipment and/or personnel could have been brought into the embassy, right? If the emphasis had not been on getting Chen on his way so the Clinton talks could proceed, one can imagine many creative solutions. Hurrying him off, alone, to a Chinese hospital that now looks more like a guarded prison could not have been the best option for him. For Clinton (the empress of business as usual), maybe, but not for Chen.
The administration’s missteps are reflective of the administration's mindset that “good relations” and “getting things done” with the Chinese are too important to let human rights get in the way. This is misguided, for in sacrificing human rights we signal weakness to the Chinese and erode our own moral standing.
And really, what have we gotten for all our diffidence to the Chinese regime? Obstruction on Syria, heightened military aggression in the South China Sea, cyberterrorism and continued dealings with Iran. When we sacrifice progress on human rights for “improved relations,” we get neither. The U.S. conduct throughout the Chen affair will only increase the perception in China that we will throw human rights overboard to keep from ruffling feathers in Beijing.