In a followup to April 29th’s Chen Guangcheng story, the Chinese dissident left the US Embassy in Beijing today.
This coincides with the opening of the 4rd annual US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue Summit, an annual meeting of top officials from both sides. This year’s trip is being headlined by US Secretaries of State and Treasury, Clinton and Geithner, and their Chinese counterparts, Yang Jiechi and Xie Xuren respectively.
Both countries are saying the Mr. Chen decided to leave the Embassy on his own accord and that he never asked for asylum from the United States. The US State Department also maintains that Mr. Chen consistently told officials that his goal was to stay in China and continue his advocacy for reform. Conflicting reports from the Associated Press, however, say that Mr. Chen only left the Embassy due to threats placed against his family.
Via a statement released by Hilary Clinton and spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, the State Department’s official line is that the outcome of the Chen affair is a positive reflection of his choices and America’s values. No overt threats were made, or known of, by American diplomats close to the issue.
Mr. Chen is supposed to have received, as a condition of his departure from the Embassy, assurances that he and his family will be made safe and that he will be allowed to pursue higher education in China.
Only one other Chinese citizen has ever been granted protection by a foreign mission in modern China – Fang Lizhi. Mr. Lizhi was a key antagonist of the Tiananmen uprising in 1989 and was granted asylum in the United States following a year’s stay in the embassy. The US-China relationship has naturally evolved since 1989 and a similar end today was never going to come easy.
This blog is both saddened and relieved about Mr. Chen’s exit. Saddened because it is clear that the United States is taking a more nuanced approach towards human rights in China: that strategic interests and economic cooperation matter more than the freedoms given to the people of the world’s most populous country. However, this blog is also an advocate of said US-China cooperation, and thus realizes that making a scene over one man does little benefit for the larger questions over human rights in such a vast country.
Therefore, despite disappointment, this blog is relieved that a possibly disastrous diplomatic incident has been avoided. The next step is to push for greater economic interconnectivity and better shared responsibilities. The Chen affair was an impossible situation. One that likely neither America’s government nor China’s wanted to deal with. With hope, the high level talks beginning today will benefit both country’s economic and civil opportunities in a long-term and tangible way.
Note 4 May 2012: As an update to the Chen debacle, Chen Guangcheng stated publicly that the terms guaranteeing his safety in exchange for leaving the US Embassy were misrepresented. Mr. Chen stated that he hoped to leave for the United States with Mrs. Clinton as the Beijing strategic talks came to a close. Also, the Chinese seemed to becoming more open to the idea of him being granted ‘student status’ in the United States – and thus being able to leave China. This is most likely to simply close this issue as quickly as possible and move on. As awkward as this is for the Americans, it is genuinely embarrassing for the Communist Party. As this writer walks past newsstands, he sees the cover of TIME, Newsweek, The Economist, etc. all carrying cover stories to the issue of human rights. No bueno for Beijing.