America’s Safe House In Beijing

Apr 30 2012 @ 4:49pm

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Chen Guangcheng, a high-profile Chinese dissident under house arrest for opposing forced abortions and sterilizations, escaped and is hiding out in the US Embassy. Jonathan Watts predicts significant consequences:

The key question raised by Chen's escape – and the US-China negotiations said to be taking place about his future – is whether the Chinese authorities will choose to clamp down harder or to change. That debate has the potential to split the party as it did in 1989, when student protests in Tiananmen Square prompted a face-off between reformers and hardliners in the politburo.

Max Fisher lays out the stakes for Obama:

If Chen Guangcheng is still locked up in an American diplomatic office, he poses a remarkable challenge to President Obama, one that asks how U.S. foreign policy under his leadership balances American ideals with American interests, whether he is able to achieve both, and, if not, which he will privilege. Obama's foreign policy team, and possibly Obama himself, face a question that is about more than just the fate of this one lawyer, or even about the U.S.-China relationship. It's about the role that America plays in the world, what we do with all the military and economic power at our fingertips. 

Fallows' assessment:

Chen Guangcheng has obvious and well-founded reasons to fear persecution in his own country for his political views. His request for political asylum would seem to fit exactly the standards for which such asylum was designed. … So the U.S. needs to be shrewd, diplomatic, mindful of its whole strategic relationship with China, and so on in considering its next steps. But on the question of whether to grant asylum, if indeed asylum is what Chen turn out to want, based on everything we know now the only choice is to say Yes.

Walter Russell Mead zooms out:

This has been a terrible spring for the home team in Beijing, and the Burma story is a significant part of a chain of events that, perhaps someday soon, may impact the conventional wisdom that sees a surging China challenging the US for global leadership. The daring and dramatic flight of the blind Christian human rights activist Chen Guangcheng from house arrest to the safety of the US Embassy in Beijing could not have come at a more neuralgic time for China’s embattled leaders.

(Photo: A paramilitary guard stands in a booth outside the US embassy in Beijing on April 28, 2012. By Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images.)