US-China ties: Human rights suffer
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Last Updated: Saturday, May 05, 2012, 14:33
  
Chen Guangcheng wants to leave China as soon as possible. He is even contemplating to leave for the US on Hillary Clinton’s plane. But the dissident does not know that the US is more interested in protecting ties with China than providing safety to him.

Similar to a Hollywood thriller, Chen escaped his rural home where local officials had kept him under house arrest for years and made it to the US embassy, just a few days before the US-China strategic and economic dialogue.

He stayed in the US embassy for six days until May 02 when US officials took him to a Beijing hospital probably as part of a deal with the Chinese government to let him and his family stay in the East Asian country but at a new location. US officials said the activist never requested asylum. The 40-year-old self-taught lawyer, however, seemingly changed his mind within hours after being released. Anxious about the fate of his family members, Chen pleaded for safety. Making a dramatic plea, the activist even telephoned the US Congress and called for help.

In an interview, Chen revealed: “The (US) embassy kept lobbying me to leave and promised to have people stay with me in the hospital. But this afternoon as soon as I checked into
the hospital room, I noticed they were all gone…I'm very disappointed at the US government.”

Chen came out from the US embassy on May 02, just a day before Hillary was scheduled to hold talks with China's President Hu Jintao in Beijing. The question arises, whether Chen was cajoled to leave the US embassy to avoid this case from hijacking the summit?

The whole episode is a stark reminder of the pathetic condition of activists in the country, which is trying hard to improve its image as 'soft power'. The case has also exposed the US’ double speak. On one hand, the US lectures countries about upholding human rights and on the other, Hillary Clinton did not even mention Chen in an appearance covered by the Chinese media following two days of talks with leaders in Beijing. Clearly , Madam Clinton failed to deliver when the time was apt.

Chen is now at a Beijing hospital, which has been sealed off by the Chinese police. The US officials acted ‘naïve’ when they pushed him into another detention. Reports claim that Chen’s friends who tried to visit him at the hospital were beaten up. Also, China’s statement that Chen Guangcheng can apply to study abroad does not look promising. However, the defensive US can use it as a face saver.

This is the second case this year that a Chinese citizen appealed to American authorities for help. In February, a police official made headlines when he went to a US consulate seeking protection after making accusations against politician Bo Xilai. He was reportedly taken into Chinese custody after leaving the embassy.

The case can also hamper Obama politically, as his Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has slammed the current administration for its handling of the Chen Guangcheng affair. He even went ahead and declared: "The reports are, if they are accurate, that our administration wittingly or unwittingly communicated to Chen an implicit threat to his family and also probably sped up, or may have sped up, the process of his decision to leave the embassy. If these reports are true, this is a dark day for freedom, and it's a day of shame for the Obama administration."

It was a pivotal moment for the US human rights diplomacy, but the Obama administration seemed to be more interested in maintaining good relations with Beijing than upholding its commitment to human rights.

The muddled situation involving Chen had tested the Obama administration's approach to ties with China, and unfortunately, in this game of trade and business, human rights were the real loser.

First Published: Saturday, May 05, 2012, 14:33


(The views expressed by the author are personal)
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