Chen Guangcheng by MC
In what is probably a first in the history of political dissidence, a political dissident will be educated rather than incarcerated.
For a while it appeared as if the case of Chinese political activist Chen Guangcheng could set China and the United States off on a head-on collision course. After what seemed like his politically expedient exit from the U.S. embassy in Beijing, it was unclear whether the exigencies of larger bilateral relations had forced the U.S. government to let Chen leave the embassy as well as compelled the Chinese government to uncharacteristically accept a compromise.
Chen himself stepped up the pressure by reaching out to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and seeking her help because he apprehended that Beijing would not come good on its assurances that he would be allowed to pursue further studies and lead a normal life. His plea was played as a phone call during an emergency congressional hearing in Washington yesterday.
It was obvious that the Chen case was becoming too politically irradiated for both sides. As it happens in such cases, Chen’s enormously high global media profile became his own guarantee against further persecution. In a remarkably swift resolution Beijing now says Chen is free to apply to study abroad, which is really a euphemism for “The sooner you get out of our lives, the better.”
The Chinese foreign ministry made a brief announcement that said Chen “can apply through normal channels to the relevant departments in accordance with the law, just like any other Chinese citizen.” The “can apply” should be read as “apply right now” in Chen’s case. I am sure Washington will be eager to get Chen on the first flight out of Beijing after he finds a university that will admit him. No one should be surprised if universities line up to get him to their campus.
The likely happy conclusion to Chen’s case is an exception rather than a rule when it comes to China because for every one Chen there are bound to a 1000 others whose harrowing struggles never come to light. It is an issue that only the Chinese government and Chinese people can eventually resolve. Chen is reported to have said he would like to come to America and “rest for several months.” That could well be the wish of half of the dissidents given half a chance.
I have long believed that as a truly great civilization China is willfully undermining itself by not paying attention to individual freedoms and human rights. There are so many minor mutinies of the Chen kind that just solving them on a piecemeal basis will do nothing to regain the lost ground.
The optics of Chen being allowed to study abroad and return to help reform the system could only help China in the long run.