Photo: Flickr: PAS China
The case of Chen Guangcheng has swiftly turned from a tale of triumph to despair, with the US switching characters — from a foreign hero to a complicit villain — half way through the story.Chen, a self-taught lawyer who been jailed after representing the victims of forced sterilization, had escaped from house arrest — where he and his family faced routine violence — and made a daring escape to Beijing, where he was sheltered in the US embassy. There were worries that the incident could cause a huge scandal for the US State Department and Hillary Clinton, who arrived in Beijing for talks on Wednesday.
Then, earlier this week, everything changed. The US and China brokered a deal whereby Chen would leave the embassy and get medical treatment. Chen would also be allowed to study law at one of 7 universities, and the persecution of him would end. The embassy was apparently so pleased with the deal that they put photos of Chen leaving on a staff Flickr account.
However, Chen soon began making accusations that appeared to show the US had, to put it bluntly, sold him out. The embassy had reportedly passed on word that Chinese authorities planned to beat his wife to death, he said.
Yesterday Chen gave a damning interview with CNN’s Steven Jiang. In the interview Chen says that he was not given a good amount of information by the embassy, and that he felt “very disappointed” in the U.S. government and felt “a little” that he had been lied to.
In Chen’s version here, it effectively sounds like the US embassy had washed their hands of him:
“The embassy kept lobbying me to leave and promised to have people stay with me at the hospital,” he said. “But this afternoon, as soon as I checked into the hospital room, I noticed they were all gone.”
Chen is now telling multiple journalists that he wants to leave China. The FT reports he hopes to leave with Hilary Clinton.
US authorities disagree with Chen’s version of the story, however.
In CNN’s report, US Ambassador Gary Locke is quoted as saying that Chen was asked whether he wanted to go to the US when he was at the embassy, but he said no.
State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland gave a similar story to Time Magazine’s Swampland blog:
“…at no point during his time in the Embassy did Chen ever request political asylum in the U.S. At every opportunity, he expressed his desire to stay in China, reunify with his family, continue his education and work for reform in his country. All our diplomacy was directed at putting him in the best possible position to achieve his objectives.”
Whatever his reasons, Chen apparently changed his mind when he got to the hospital and met his family. Exactly what made him change his mind is unclear.
Regardless, the situation has cast the US authorities in China in a terrible light. It may be impossible to give Chen asylum now — reports suggest he doesn’t even have a passport — and WaPo’s Jennifer Rubin reports that State Department phone calls to Chen are not being put through. The situation is beginning to look like the worst possible outcome for all involved.
Watch this video on the Chen situation:
Produced by Daniel Goodman
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