When forced abortion opponent and blind attorney Chen Guangcheng escaped house arrest in China last week and fled to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, he touched off what some are calling the most significant challenge to U.S.-China relations since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.
A variety of news sources are reporting that Chen, a self-taught lawyer best known for exposing China’s brutal one-child family planning policy, escaped house arrest last week and took refuge in the U.S. Embassy. The escape was “facilitated” by ChinaAid, a U.S. based human rights group, who told the Wall Street Journal that Chen is now in a “100% safe location” in Beijing.
The timing of Chen’s escape couldn’t be any worse for the U.S. as it comes just one week ahead of a planned state visit to China next week by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.
According to CBS News, their “sources” tell them that both sides are in “frantic negotiations to reach a deal” on Chen’s fate before the scheduled visit. Chen will either be allowed to remain in China with the government guaranteeing his safety and that of his family, or an agreement will be reached to allow Chen to leave China, most likely for the U.S.
Chen is one of China’s best-known human rights activists who is best known for exposing that country’s family planning policy who previously served four years in prison for his activities. After his release from prison in September, 2010, Chen and his family were confined to their home in the village of Dongshigu without charge. The Wall Street Journal reports that journalists and supporters who tried to visit him, including the film star Christian Bale, have been roughed up or beaten by Chinese security guards.
The problem for the Chinese governments is that Chen is so widely known and, because he’s a blind man with a young wife and child, receives worldwide sympathy. Anything the communist government does to him receives global attention. Because Chinese authorities don’t like to be cast in a bad light on the international stage, and want their people to believe they are following the rule of law with dissidents such as Chen, they are in a tough spot as to how to handle the current crisis.
The U.S. is also in a bind. In addition to a variety of trade reasons, the administration also needs China’s help in dealing with Iran, North Korea, and Syria. Politically, President Barack Obama is also facing harsh criticism from Republicans for his soft stance on China.
Although the White House has not confirmed that the U.S. is protecting Chen in Beijing, if he is under American protection it will be very difficult for the Obama Administration to turn him over to Chinese authorities because Chen will undoubtedly face severe consequences, even death.
LifeNews is reporting that members of Congress, including pro-life Congressman Chris Smith, are keeping a close eye on the situation.
“I’m relieved to hear the reported news of human rights advocate Chen Guangcheng’s escape from extended illegal home confinement,” Smith said. ““I hope that he is safe as his supporters have indicated.”
“At the same time, I remain extremely concerned about the safety and well-being of Chen’s family members who continue to be held under home confinement, as well as those who have assisted him. I strongly reiterate and support Chen’s demands addressed to Premier Wen Jiabao, that he 1) Thoroughly investigate and punish according to the law those who ordered the poor treatment of Chen and his family; 2) Ensure the safety of Chen’s wife, mother, and children, according to the law; 3) Investigate and punish official corruption like what has been taking place in Linyi village, related to Chen’s home confinement,”
Smith added. “China’s abysmal record of crushing religious freedom, harassing and jailing political activists, stymieing workers rights, subjecting many unmarried pregnant women and women without birth permits to undergo forced abortions and forced sterilizations, suppressing the media, use of beatings and torture and other basic human rights violations have drawn concerns from the human rights community.”
Smith is calling upon the Chinese government “to immediately comply with Chen’s demands imperative to his, his family, and his supporters’ security and welfare.”