If Abbott and Costello were put in charge of our China policy, the result would look pretty much like what we have seen today: Confusion, word games and chaos.
It is the perfect coda to President Obama’s grandstanding on Osama bin Laden and his feckless accord with the Afghan government. For Obama, stunts and speeches are no problem, but thoughtful policy that entails any political risk or standing up to adversaries? Fuggedaboutit.
Here is what we know. The Post reports:
A lawyer for blind activist Chen Guangcheng on Wednesday questioned a U.S.-brokered deal to guarantee Chen’s safety in China and said that, after leaving the protection of the U.S. Embassy here, the dissident may have no choice but to go to the United States.
Chen traveled from the diplomatic compound to a Beijing hospital with U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke on Wednesday afternoon, but soon found himself surrounded by Chinese plainclothes police, with no American diplomats in sight.
Oh, good grief. How did that happen? The State Department says, “Not our fault!” (“While U.S. officials insisted that they had received promises from the Chinese government that assured the safety of Chen and his family, activists and Chen’s lawyers said Chen apparently either agreed to the deal under duress or, after arriving at the hospital, began having second thoughts.”) But what is clear that whatever arrangement the United States worked out had no enforcement mechanism to assure the safety of Chen and his family.
A State Department spokeswoman (pity the poor woman with that job) denied that the Chinese had threatened to kill Chen’s family and denied that U.S. officials communicated such a threat. Chen, however, said later that he was threatened. Human rights groups are seething:
“I’m somewhat surprised by the U.S. government’s willingness to accept the Chinese government’s assurances or even to get Hillary Clinton to work for Chen’s safety in the long term,” said Nicholas Bequelin, senior Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch, based in Hong Kong. “It seems they’ve taken a huge risk with this’”
He shouldn’t be surprised at all. This is par for the course — it is the same jumble of incompetence, naivete and timidity that characterizes the Obama foreign policy.
Foreign Policy’s Susan Glasser sheds some more light on the situation:
In the end, the deal they negotiated seemed to offer Chen promises, but no real guarantees. As outlined by the Americans, it included the following: a promise not only to reunite Chen with his wife and two children but also that he “will be treated humanely,” that U.S officials would have access to him in the hospital; that he would ultimately be “relocated to a safe environment,” and would have the opportunity to attend a university to continue his self-guided studies in law. There was no word on the other human rights activists who have apparently been rounded up in recent days after helping Chen’s escape; only the American officials urging the authorities “to take no retribution” against them.
“We think we have helped to secure for him a better future,” said one of the U.S. officials involved.
Still, it’s a deal that’s sure to be second-guessed and parsed endlessly, and one that risks alienating both the Chinese, who, angered by the incident, put out a statement on the news agency Xinhua demanding an American apology (one was not forthcoming), and human rights advocates, who may fear that the guarantees to Chen are not sufficient.
In the news accounts, the State Department is portrayed as very anxious to describe the painstaking process it undertook and the days of negotiations with the Chinese. But the result — isn’t that always the rub? — suggests that the U.S. negotiators were taken for a ride, either willingly or not. Maybe the State Department personnel bought the idea that the Chinese central government would protect Chen from local officials; if so, they were bamboozled.
A China expert who has been critical of the administration’s approach told me grimly, “I’m guessing US officials were eager to get rid of him.” Yes, because goodness knows we wouldn’t want to upset our fine relations with the thugs threatening Chen’s family.
I received no answer to multiple requests for comment from the Romney camp. So long as the man vying for the job as commander in chief remains mute (or short-staffed or uninterested), he will allow Obama to escape scrutiny of what may prove to be another human rights debacle. Unless Romney shows some spine and some interest, Obama’s foreign policy lapses will cause him no political grief.