Blind activist Chen Guangcheng, who fled de facto house arrest last month and sought refuge at the U.S. Embassy, has left the Embassy compound after receiving assurances from the Chinese government that he will treated humanely. According to U.S. officials, the Chinese government agreed that Chen will be reunited with his family, relocated to a safe place in a different part of China, and allowed to enroll in a university as a law student. The same official stated: “We understand there are no remaining legal issues . . . and that he will be treated as any other student in China.”
That statement reeks of wishful thinking. China is steamed by this incident. A government spokesman has said that “the U.S. method was interference in Chinese domestic affairs, and this is totally unacceptable to China,” and the government has demanded that the U.S. apologize for taking Chen in.
The notion that, short of renouncing his past activities and engaging in vigorous self-criticism, Chen can expect decent treatment going forward seems like a long-shot. More likely, China will attempt to save face by coming down on Chen, claiming perhaps with justification that he is not behaving “as any other student in China.” In this way, China can gain retribution against both the dissident and the U.S., which has promised to “remain engaged with Mr. Chen and his family in the days, weeks, and years ahead.” Expect China to put that promise to the test.
It’s not clear, however, that the U.S. could have handled this affair much differently. According to reports, Chen did not want asylum. Instead, he wanted to end his house arrest, to be reunited with his family, and to be given more freedom. The deal the U.S. worked out accomplishes these objectives, for now. Moreover, Chen himself reportedly is satisfied with it. Supposedly, the blind dissident went so far as to tell Secretary of State Clinton “I want to kiss you.”
One supposes that Ms. Clinton would have been than willing to kiss Chen in exchange for an end to this incident, which occurred just as she is visiting China.