It is looking more and more possible that U.S. officials made at least some mistakes in handling the case of Chinese dissident and lawyer Chen Guangcheng. After escaping from extralegal house arrest in his village in Shandong province, Chen, with the help of a network of activists, made his way to Beijing and then to the U.S. Embassy. He left American protection on Wednesday and is now in a hospital in Beijing, where he has been reunited with his wife, Yuan Weijing, and two children.
But after initial reports that Chen did not wish to seek asylum in the U.S. and that he would be relocated safely to the city of Tianjin, where he would be able to study law, Chen has made it very clear that he now fears for the safety of his family and wants to leave China. He has requested that he meet face-to-face with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is now in Beijing for previously schedule strategic economic and political talks. Indeed, Chen has said that he wishes to leave China on Clinton’s plane; on Thursday, he telephoned a U.S. Congressional hearing and pleaded for help to get himself and his family out of China: “I want to come to the US to rest. I have not had a rest in 10 years,” he said.
The Obama administration’s handling of Chen’s case is leading some critics to “portray the embassy as inept bunglers under pressure to remove a distraction before the big talks got under way,” says the BBC’s Mark Mardell. Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican candidate for president, has charged the Obama administration with acting in haste to complete the negotiations about Chen’s situation prior to Clinton’s arrival in China for the talks.
According to the New York Times, American officials who negotiated with the Chinese Foreign Ministry about Chen said that they consulted “frequently” with him but not extensively with his wife and this, in hindsight, may have turned out to be a “mistake.” Via a telephone interview with the New York Times on Thursday, Chen’s wife said that he had left the U.S. Embassy “voluntarily,” but that things had changed after his departure:
Under the original plan, China promised to “guarantee his freedom and rights, and the U.S. made some efforts,” she said. “But after he’s out, the situation has not been optimistic and has not been improved.” She said communications with their extended family had been cut.
“We can’t get in contact with our family,” she said.
Chen, his wife and two children remain in a Beijing hospital that has been sealed off by police. Villagers and activists who helped him are now facing retribution. The BBC’s Damian Grammaticas attempted to visit him there on Thursday, but was barred by police. U.S. diplomats and lawyers are also not being allowed to see Chen who, says Grammaticas, is effectively under detention.
The BBC also reports that a Hong Kong cable crew who attempted to get to Chen’s house in Shandong province was attacked.
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