Why Chen Matters


Helen Gao explains why China's people care so much about the way America treats escaped dissidents:

The two most recent real-life thrillers coming out of China, though they involve characters from opposite ends of the power spectrum, both began with a man's frantic attempt to seek refuge from the Chinese system in the embraces of American power. This, more than a coincidence, sheds light on a truth deeply rooted in current Chinese society, but often muddled by the constant bickering between the two nations: the popular Chinese conviction of the United States' unrivaled international clout, and a widely shared perception of the U.S. as the ultimate embodiment of justice, democracy, and the rule of law.

Recent Dish on the Chen Guangcheng case here and here. The sequence of events makes a judgment hard. I can see why Chen would want to stay in China at first, and can also, of course, sympathize what what appear to be his second thoughts in hospital. I can see evidence that the Obama administration tried to deal with this briskly to avoid a clash at high-level talks, but I don't yet see them in any way hanging Chen out to dry. But it's a mess nonetheless:

Via a cellphone held up to a microphone at the hearing, Mr. Chen, speaking in Chinese, said: “I want to come to the U.S. to rest. I have not had a rest in 10 years. I’m concerned most right now with the safety of my mother and brothers. I really want to know what’s going on with them."

Mr. Chen, according to the English translation of his comments, also asked to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was in Beijing. "I hope I can get more help from her," he said. "Also, I want to thank her face-to-face."

One aspect of this is that we are dealing with a heroic figure who is physically exhausted and injured after an amazing flight from house arrest. His emotions are understandably in flux. I just wish he had clearly asked for asylum as soon as he got to the embassy, instead of changing his mind once handed back to the Chinese.

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