Dangerous fallout from China’s Chen affair / U.S. signals weakness to the world’s growing ranks of predators (WASHINGTON TIMES OP-ED) By John R. Bolton 05/08/12)
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The past two weeks of turmoil and drama in Sino-American affairs may
well be the new normal, not an exception to an otherwise placid
bilateral relationship. While Friday brought news of a possible deal
allowing dissident Chen Guangcheng to leave China to study in
America, that deal is no more certain than the earlier, failed deal,
announced just days before, under which he was to remain in China.
Many basic facts remain unknown, but the historical tides sweeping
across the Pacific will not wait until we have perfect information,
if we ever do.
Mr. Chen’s individual odyssey symbolizes large, indeed tectonic,
political and social forces grinding away beneath the smooth
appearance Beijing strains to convey. One person’s fate can be
symbolic of larger forces, as in the 18th-century War of Jenkins‘
Ear. A Spanish officer sliced off British Capt. Robert Jenkins‘ ear
for alleged piracy, proclaiming “were the King of England here doing
the same, I would do the same to him,” precipitating hostilities. In
fact, the conflict was just one episode in a much broader contest for
European predominance, with Britain playing its historic role as
Washington-Beijing relations are hardly so strained and hopefully
will not end so badly. Nonetheless, the skirmish over Mr. Chen
reflects poorly on the United States. Our halting, confused and so
far inconclusive diplomacy has increased China’s determination to
exploit our perceived weaknesses across the broader relationship.
Beijing’s conclusion is that America is unwilling or unable to stand
firm on its core values and interests. Consider the following
First, Mr. Chen did not simply show up on the doorstep of our embassy
in Beijing. Instead, we sent an official vehicle to bring him into
the embassy compound, thus evading Chinese security guards who likely
would have barred his entry and arrested him. Our intervention was
correct and consistent with prior U.S. practice in difficult refugee
cases. Incomprehensibly, however, the State Department apparently
failed to realize we were dramatically escalating the Chen matter,
raising the political stakes by directly confronting China and also
significantly increasing the risks to Mr. Chen, his family and
dissident colleagues not under American protection.
Second, Mr. Chen’s departure, ostensibly to a hospital for medical
treatment, effectively put him under Chinese police control. This
demonstrated appalling U.S. naivete, considering how Beijing already
had reacted to Mr. Chen’s daring escape from house arrest, his flight
to Beijing and procurement of U.S. protection. Whether Mr. Chen truly
decided to leave the embassy voluntarily, whether American officials
provided him enough information to make a fully informed decision,
whether Chinese officials were beating Mr. Chen’s wife and arresting
the colleagues who had helped him escape, and whether the whole
process was sped up because of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham
Clinton’s impending arrival in Beijing all warrant further
But the real issue is why responsible U.S. authorities had any reason
to believe the Chinese government, which had imprisoned Mr. Chen and
kept him under house arrest the past seven years, would cheerfully
assent to freeing him to attend law school in China, thereby
inevitably maturing into an even greater threat to Communist Party
supremacy. Chinese human rights advocates did not believe Beijing’s
assurances; why did our State Department?
Third, even assuming Mr. Chen and his immediate family do leave China
to study in America, which is still uncertain, Mr. Chen almost
certainly will never be allowed to return. Even as Mrs. Clinton’s
plane was wheels-up from Beijing, official Chinese media were
condemning Mr. Chen as a U.S. “tool,” an agent of our sinister
efforts to undermine Chinese authority. This propaganda campaign is a
precursor either to subjecting him to continued scrutiny and
repression in China or to expelling him as a foreign subversive.
Either way, Mr. Chen’s fate would be a vivid warning to other
dissidents that they could face the same unhappy future.
Fourth, China’s underlying instability will only continue to grow.
Mr. Chen’s campaign against forced sterilization and abortion, and
thus against the infamous one-child-per-family policy, reflected
deeply felt opposition to this brutal Chinese government interference
in fundamental human freedoms and issues of conscience.
And opposition to the “one child” policy is itself only part of
broader turmoil. The apparent purge of Communist Party leader Bo
Xilai proves, that all is not well within the party leadership. Taken
together with other evidence of instability in China, it is no wonder
the Communist Party and the People’s Liberation Army are at near-
trigger-happy levels of concern.
That is why Washington’s confused handling of the Chen affair is so
disturbing. At a time of potentially enormous upheaval within China,
America’s current foreign-policy leaders had no strategy to advance
our interests and support those of like mind inside China. Instead,
we find ourselves more vulnerable to China and other present and
potential adversaries exploiting our weaknesses and inattention.
U.S. vulnerability and failure are comforting signs to autocrats and
dictators worldwide. The Chen affair should warn us that a continued
uncertain trumpet by the United States means only greater dangers to
America in the coming decades.(© 2012 The Washington Times, LLC.
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