Saturday, February 6 , 2016, 9:06 pm | Fair 55º

Mona Charen: Obama’s Disgraceful Abandonment of Chen Guangcheng

Administration suffers loss of face in feeble attempt to free the human rights activist

By Mona Charen | @mcharen |

It’s hard to know which is worse — one’s grief over Chen Guangcheng’s fate or the fury over the Obama administration’s abandonment of him to that fate.

Chen was already an internationally known human rights activist when he remarkably showed up at the U.S. embassy in Beijing late last month seeking refuge. A blind, self-taught lawyer from Shandong province, Chen had been held prisoner for 19 months for the crime of publicizing Chinese atrocities by those enforcing the “one child” policy. Chen had chosen a moonless night (his captors were not blind) to scale several high walls and stumble his way to a predetermined meeting place where Christian friends would help him make the harrowing 300-mile journey to Beijing. He told supporters that he fell 200 times that night — breaking a foot in the process.

At some point, it’s not clear exactly where or when, U.S. officials did help Chen get to the embassy — which is gratifying. What happened next was not.

Four days of negotiations with the Chinese government followed. The State Department was gearing up for the visit of Secretary Hillary Clinton, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and other top officials. Chen’s presence in the embassy would cast a pall over the diplomatic niceties. So while U.S. officials held discussions with the Chinese about Chen’s future, it’s clear that they did so with the usual disregard for the nature of the regime they were confronting.

When, for example, the Chinese rounded up Chen’s friends and accomplices in Shandong, U.S. officials asked China to “investigate” these “extralegal” activities by local authorities, as if they were dealing with a government that enforces the rule of law rather than a criminal state that flouts the law.

Throughout the tense days of talks, Chen’s spirits sometimes flagged, understandably. There are reports that the Chinese threatened his family. He asked, the Washington Post reported, about other human rights heroes — Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi. “‘Does she ever feel low? Did she ever question her choices?’”

State Department officials claim that Chen repeatedly expressed a desire to remain in China and continue his human rights work. U.S. officials supposedly worked out an agreement with the Chinese that Chen, his wife and children would be permitted to move to a small city near Beijing to continue his legal studies, free from persecution. Clinton issued a statement that Chen was leaving the embassy in accord with “his wishes and our values.”

The State Department released cheery pictures of Chen being wheeled into the hospital. Then the rosy facade crumbled. Chen was surrounded by plainclothes police, and the U.S. officials abandoned him. “No one from the U.S. embassy is here,” Chen told a British broadcaster. “I don’t understand. They promised to be here.”

As Melinda Liu of The Daily Beast reported, Chen felt pressured by the United States to take the deal. He spoke to Bob Fu of the China Aid Association from his hospital bed: “He was very heavy-hearted,” Fu said. “He was crying when we spoke. He said he was under enormous pressure to leave the embassy. Some people almost made him feel he was being a huge burden to the U.S. According to Fu, Chen was told that “he would have no chance of reunification with his wife and children if he didn’t (leave). The choice presented to him was walk out — or stay inside and lose his wife and kids.”

Chen told Liu, through tears, that it was his “fervent hope” that he and his family would be permitted to leave China on Clinton’s plane.

It is sad when the most charitable possible interpretation of a diplomatic episode is that the Obama administration was rolled. Even supposing the administration to have been acting in good faith, President Barack Obama set the table for this sucker punch from the Chinese long ago. In 2009, Clinton signaled the administration’s weakness by saying that human rights concerns would not be permitted to interfere with cooperation “on the global economic crisis (and) the global climate change crisis.” Prior to his 2009 visit to China, Obama declined to meet with the Dalai Lama to avoid offending his hosts. And while in China, he permitted the regime to stage-manage his appearances and effectively censor his remarks.

The Chinese appear to have taken Obama’s measure. They think they have nothing to fear from flagrantly reneging on a deal to offer humane treatment to a human rights hero — thus openly expressing their contempt for Obama and the United States. Obama has suffered a loss of face. Chen stands to lose everything.

Mona Charen of National Review magazine writes for Creators Syndicate. Click here for more information or to contact her. Follow Mona Charen on Twitter: @mcharen.

» on 05.06.12 @ 04:46 PM

This is tragic. Thank you Clinton, and thank you Obama administration. You sent an amazing disabled hero back into the lion’s jaws.

» on 05.07.12 @ 12:16 AM

Yes, another Chinese hero for whom the GOP grieves. Truly a great future American welfare recipient.

Wait a minute!

» on 05.07.12 @ 07:12 PM

Charen never once wrote, or thought, about this brave gentleman until this
recent episode.

As the gentleman is totally blind, and broke his leg scampering over a wall, to
reach a get-away car, and as he speaks no English, and had never been anywhere near the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, the reality is that he and public opinion were being very cynically manipulated ... by his erstwhile Opposition friends.

Their timing, hauling their injured friend into the Embassy, hundreds of miles from his actual home, was designed to embarrass not Obama, but China’s government on the eve of very important high-level talks with America.

How is any embassy supposed to deal with a blind dissident who is trucked in
from far away, and needs immediate medical attention, due to his broken leg?

It will turn out that, being blind, the gentleman has been long dependent on
advice he gets from his family and friends, and that, in this case, he got mixed
or bad advice.

Apart from how totally corrupt the Beijing national government is, his main
problem wasn’t in Beijing, but from the even more corrupt provincial bureaucracy where he lived. That is stuff it would be hard for Beijing, let alone
Washington, to guard him from.

It will eventually sort out that he will come to America, but have lots of trouble
trying to get back.

Brave man, but manipulated by everyone all around him. If Mona Charen thought
more clearly, or understood China better, she never would have written this
column the way it turned out.

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