Over three years ago I wrote about the Obama administration's shabby treatment of blind activist Chen Guangcheng, who escaped from house arrest and found his way to the U.S. embassy, only to be almost thrown back to the wolves.
This week a post at the Public Discourse goes back to that time and gives a few more details.
When released from prison, Chen returned to his heroic wife, Weijing, and their two children at their simple village home, but he was kept under the tightest house arrest. Approximately five hundred men surrounded their tiny dwelling with three concentric rings of guards, while checkpoints were set up on the roads to make escape impossible. The Chen family lived under spotlights. They were monitored by listening devices, all radio signals were jammed, and the family was observed constantly. It was intolerable.
So, on April 20, 2012, following a meticulous plan, and in broad daylight, Chen took advantage of the noise of a loudly barking dog to drop from his home’s eastern wall into his neighbor’s yard and begin an escape. As he made his perilous way, the blind fugitive could rely only on his acutely developed senses of smell and hearing. After several hours, Chen reached a neighboring village, where friends got him a taxi to rendezvous with others who would drive him to Beijing.
What of his family? After he was gone, they carried on as though he were present. His children talked to him loudly and greeted him enthusiastically, though he was no longer there. His extraordinary wife carried on with their daily routines, bringing water in the evening to wash her husband’s feet, as was her habit, and then pouring it away. After two days, suspicion mounted, but she deflected the guards’ attention by showing them Chen’s bed, in which a roll of blankets was wrapped up in his quilt. His shoes were exactly where he left them at the bedside. Eventually, the guards finally insisted on inspecting the bedroom and discovered the trick, reacting with anger and humiliation. But by this time, Chen was far away and safe.
After travelling more than five hundred miles, Chen finally arrived at the place where he believed freedom was truly honored: the American Embassy. Americans should hang their heads in shame when they consider the shabby treatment Chen received—ordered by President Obama with the approval of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—when he miraculously arrived there.
Upon initial contact, the embassy staff were welcoming and genuinely admiring. An embassy car was sent out to pick up the fugitives who were being pursued by Chinese police. Chen and the embassy car were surrounded, but the transfer was ultimately made successfully and Chen arrived safely. Shortly thereafter, Hillary Clinton called him, full of seeming goodwill.
Then, something happened. Left alone for five hours, Chen sensed that the attitude of the staff had become chilly. When Kurt Campbell, one of the ablest foreign policy specialists in the Democratic Party, arrived, he presented himself as Chen’s friend. He told Chen that he wanted to work out a deal—with the Chinese central government. Chen told Campbell that he wanted an investigation into the brutal treatment he received, apologies from the Chinese government for constantly flouting its own laws, and some sort of personal freedom for himself and his family. Campbell initially seemed optimistic. But after consulting unnamed high officials, the only offer he provided was for Chen to stay in Beijing and study law at one of an approved list of colleges, perhaps later going abroad. Chen, accustomed to speaking the flat truth, said “no.”
I note that what Chen asked for was that the administration allow him to stay in the embassy while it used American influence to negotiate better treatment in China for himself and his family. Initially, his goal was not to come to the U.S. In this respect, Chen reminds me of Baptist activist Georgi Vins, who left Russian-controlled Ukraine only when forcibly expelled and whose goal had been to stay there as long as possible and resist Communist persecution of himself and others.
[T]he United States folded timidly and pressured Chen to let himself be turned over to the Chinese authorities by eviction from the embassy to a Chinese-controlled hospital. The situation looked very bad—that is, until Chen outwitted the hapless administration and forced it to take a principled position.
True to form, Chen didn’t dissemble or compromise. Instead, he insisted that rules be followed and standards upheld, just as he had done for years when dealing with the Chinese. In response, Campbell and the other Americans became increasingly vexed both by Chen’s seeming ingratitude for their efforts and his unswerving insistence on a real, substantial solution. Chen watched in disbelief as the American diplomats groveled pathetically before the Chinese.
At this point, one of our government’s least-favorite advocates for freedom in China intervened. Bob Fu, a Chinese-American Christian pastor, connected the hospitalized Chen via audio with members of Congress, who were outraged at his treatment. Suddenly, Washington took serious note of Chen’s predicament, and the White House faced the possibility of extremely negative political repercussions if it did not handle the situation properly. Abruptly, under immense pressure from the American people, Obama and his colleagues were forced to recalculate.
The Americans in Beijing could see no way out, but the Chinese saved them. A mysterious official appeared, suggesting that, now that things were getting hot, Chen might go abroad with his family. Quickly and quietly, this official provided Chen with the necessary paperwork, and a flight to the United States was arranged.
Precisely why the Chinese decided to save our bacon and evict Chen and his family is a bit of a mystery to me, but I suspect it has something to do with humiliation. They believed that they had humiliated the U.S., and they had at least guaranteed that Chen would not return to trouble them.
In his absence, business has continued as usual, and just recently there has been a new crackdown on legal activists like him:
For the last decade, a brave group of several hundred Chinese lawyers has been filing human rights suits, demanding procedural correctness, objecting or filing suit yet again every time a rule is broken, and generally creating a difficult situation for a system that rests on a strange mutual hypocrisy in which both the rulers and the ruled understand that laws and regulations are to be ignored.
This came to an end on the weekend of July 11-12, 2015. Without warning, Chinese authorities detained over one hundred fifty of these human rights lawyers, including some whole firms, some of whose brave roles are described in Chen’s book. Authorities libeled these courageous lawyers as “a major criminal gang.” Most have now disappeared. They probably have not been incarcerated in official prisons, but instead in the Ministry of Public Security’s clandestine “black jails,” whose locations are secret, where no rules apply, where torture and killing are standard, and where no records are kept. There, people disappear for good.
News of this crackdown comes just as China announces that it will now force women to have abortions only in connection with a two-child policy rather than in enforcement of its former one-child policy. I'm sure all the Chinese women who happen to get pregnant with a third child will find this very comforting. And we should not forget that unmarried women and many others--those who are considered too young, for example--are not given birth licenses and are forced to abort even a first child.
The more things change in China, the more they stay the same. The emphasis upon hyper-control by the government, the corruption, the disdain for the rule of law, the refusal of legitimate freedoms, all go on as usual.
What can we, the United States, do? We can defund the UNFPA. We can use the bully pulpit. We can recover a sense that we have a right and a responsibility to speak out and to use our influence to act against the evil in Communist countries. And we can learn from the fiasco of Chen Guangcheng's escape and decide what to do better if something like this happens at our Chinese embassy again. I do not expect this from Obama or a Democrat administration. They are utterly morally bankrupt. But I do ask it of any future Republican administration.