Obama Refuses to Comment on Protecting Chen Guangcheng

International   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Apr 30, 2012   |   3:03PM   |   Washington, DC

In a press conference today with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda of Japan in the East Room of the White House, President Barack Obama refused to comment on whether the U.S would offer long-term protection for forced abortion opponent Chen Guangcheng.

“I am aware of the press reports,” Obama said without naming the human rights activist directly, “but I’m not going to make a statement on the issue.”

Obama claimed that the issue of human rights in China, though he did not mention forced abortions, sterilizations or infanticides specifically, comes up frequently in conversations between American and Chinese leaders.

“What I would like to emphasize is that every time we meet with China, the issue of human rights comes up,” Obama added.

“It is our belief that not only is that the right thing to do because it comports with our principles and belief in freedom and human rights, but also because we actually think China will be stronger as it opens up and liberalizes its own system,” Obama said. “We want China to be strong and we want it to be prosperous, and we are very pleased with all the areas of cooperation that we’ve been able to engage in, but we also believe that that relationship will be that much stronger and China will be that much more prosperous and strong as you see improvements in human rights issues.”

Obama did not confirm reports from other human rights activists inside and outside China that Chen is currently at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also talked about Chen on Monday, ahead of a planned trip to China, where she will meet with Chinese officials on Thursday and Friday.

“A constructive relationship includes talking very frankly about those areas where we do not agree, including human rights,” Clinton said. “That is the spirit that is guiding me as I take off for Beijing tonight.”

Obama’s comments are a departure from ones GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney made over the weekend calling for Chen’s protection.

“My concern at this moment is for the safety of Chen Guangcheng and his family,” he said. “My hope is that U.S. officials will take every measure to ensure that Chen and his family members are protected from further persecution.”

Romney continued, “This event points to the broader issue of human rights in China. Any serious U.S. policy toward China must confront the facts of the Chinese government’s denial of political liberties, its one-child policy, and other violations of human rights. Our country must play a strong role in urging reform in China and supporting those fighting for the freedoms we enjoy.”

Chen, a blind attorney, had been in captivity at his home after spending years in prison after he was convicted on trumped-up charges engineered by family planning and Communist Party officials for retaliation against his exposing a massive brutal campaign in his local county involving the victimization of thousands in forced abortions and sterilizations.

In a daring rescue attempt, human rights campaigners helped Chen escape his home confinement and took him to an undisclosed location in Beijing — reportedly the U.S embassy — but the Obama administration has given no indication of whether it will provide Chen with political asylum or other diplomatic protection. Leading pro-life campaigners and human rights groups are concerned that if Chen is not protected, Chinese officials may illegally detain him and send him back to prison, home detention or may take his life.

New information today reveals Chen is indeed currently at the U.S. Embassy but is apparently not seeking political asylum in the United States and reportedly wants to stay in China to continue helping victims of the forced abortions that take place as a result of the one-child policy.

Hu Jia, who was detained over the weekend by Chinese officials for questioning about Chen’s status, told AFP Chen met with US ambassador Gary Locke following his arrival at the embassy.

“He is in the embassy,” Hu, who met with Chen after the escape, told AFP. “He is not seeking political asylum.”

“What he demands is that the Chinese government promise to protect him and his family and end the persecution. He wants to see legal rights protected,” Hu said. “Chen Guangcheng is already safe. But his wife, his children, his mother, his brothers and others are not safe.”

“(Security officials) asked when Chen Guangcheng met with ambassador Gary Locke,” he added. “So it seems very clear that he has met with the American ambassador. I had no way of answering. I do not know what is going on inside. But when I heard this I was very surprised and excited.”

Meanwhile, a top U.S. diplomat , Kurt Campbell, arrived Sunday to meet with Chinese leaders, according to a New York Times report. [related]

Guo Yushan, a Beijing-based researcher and rights advocate, talked more about the daring rescue and escape in an interview with Reuters.

“Chen Guangcheng’s escape was a miracle, hard to believe unless you heard him tell the story himself,” he said. “He had to climb over eight walls and over a dozen barriers by himself, tripping and falling hundreds of times for 19 hours until he crossed a stream and finally escaped from his village. His whole body was cut and bruised from all his climbing and tripping. His right foot strained so he could barely stand. By the end, he could only crawl for a long stretch, so when I saw him he looked in a really sorry state.”

“He spent over two months staying inside his room for two reasons – to work out the patterns of his guards, and to get the guards lulled into the idea that he, Chen Guangcheng, was not coming out or trying to leave,” said Guo.

“He seized a brief moment to jump the first wall in about five seconds, and then came the second, third, fourth,” said Guo. “It took nineteen hours for him to finally get out.”



Guo, who drove Chen the 370 miles from his hometown to Beijing, also said Chen is not wanting to leave China.

“He was adamant that he would not apply for political asylum with any country,” said Guo. “He certainly wants to stay in China, and demand redress for the years of illegal persecution in Shandong and continue his efforts for Chinese society.”

“The situation is complicated now, so I don’t want to confirm where he is now,” said Guo. “His own personal choice is certainly not to leave China.”

Yesterday, an Obama administration official would not say whether the Obama administration plans to provide political asylum or some sort of other diplomatic protection for Chen. John Brennan, Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, would not provide additional details as to whether Chen is currently under protection at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing or where Chen is hiding after he escaped the house arrest family planning and Chinese Communist Party officials had subjected him to since he was released from prison on bogus charges following his exposing a massive campaign of forced abortions.

“I think in all instances the president tries to balance our commitment to human rights, making sure that the people throughout the world have the ability to express themselves freely and openly, but also that we can continue to carry out our relationships with key countries overseas,” Brennan told “Fox News Sunday.”

Brennan called the U.S. relationship with China “very important” and added, “so we’re going to make sure that we do this in the appropriate way and the appropriate balance is struck.”

“I think it would be fair to say the president has faced similar situations in the past in terms of this balancing requirement and so I’m confident that the president and others within the U.S. government will be able to find the right way forward,” Brennan said.

Chen’s escape comes a week before Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner head to Beijing for economic talks that were planned in advance of his fleeing house arrest. AP reports that Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell left for Beijing today to prepare the way for those discussions.

If Chen is currently enjoying protection from the United States, the Obama administration will be hard-pressed to not continue protecting him as Chen would undoubtedly face potential harm, including death, if the United States refuses to continue the protection and Chinese officials unlawfully detain him.

Earlier Sunday, likely Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney called on President Barack Obama today to provide any diplomatic protection possible for Chinese forced abortion opponent Chen Guangcheng, who escaped house arrest this past week.

Late Friday, Congressman Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican who is the head of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus and has chaired hearings on Chen’s bogus imprisonment and the extensive forced abortion and sterilization campaign he exposed, released a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to LifeNews calling for her to protect Chen.

“I also respectfully ask that you take all other available diplomatic measures to ensure the safety and freedom of Mr. Chen and his family,” Smith said in the letter.

“I remain extremely concerned about the safety and well-being of Mr. Chen’s family members who continue to be held under home confinement, as well as those who have assisted him. The fact that government officials have repeatedly and severely beaten Mr. Chen, his wife, and his mother during his house arrest, in addition to denying him adequate medical treatment and nutrition in spite of his fragile and deteriorating health, gives rise to justifiable reports that his family members and others associated with him are now in danger,” Smith said.

“As you are aware Madame Secretary, Mr. Chen has demanded through a video released on the Internet that Premier Wen Jiabao: 1) thoroughly investigate and punish according to the law those who ordered the abusive treatment of Mr. Chen and his family; 2) ensure the safety of Mr. Chen’s wife, mother, and children; and 3) investigate and punish official corruption related to Mr. Chen’s home confinement in Linyi village. I would strongly encourage you to reiterate and express our country’s support for these demands to the Premier,” he continued.

Smith concluded: “I would request that you raise the issue of all harassed, arrested, disappeared, and disbarred human rights lawyers and defenders with the Chinese Government on an on-going basis and link this issue to the United States’ interests in the rule of law and respect for human rights generally in China.”

Bob Fu, president of the U.S.-based Christian human-rights group ChinaAid, who originally reported the details of Chen’s escape earlier today, told the Wall St. Journal Chen is now in Beijing in a “100% safe location.” He said ChinaAid acted as a “facilitator” in the escape and briefed the U.S. government and diplomats on what happened.

“I can’t say more as there might be some diplomatic issues,” he said, but added, “If you ask any Chinese person where the safest place in Beijing is, they’ll all think the same thing. Even Wang Lijun had a similar idea.”

Smith said there has been a sharp deterioration of human rights in China, even as dictatorships have given way to popular uprisings around the world.

“China’s abysmal record of crushing religious freedom, harassing and jailing political activists, stymieing workers rights, subjecting many unmarried pregnant women and women without birth permits to undergo forced abortions and forced sterilizations, suppressing the media, use of beatings and torture and other basic human rights violations have drawn concerns from the human rights community,” he said.

Time Magazine named Chen one of ‘‘2006’s Top 100 People Who Shape Our World,” in the category of ‘‘Heroes and Pioneers.’’ In 2005 and 2006 Chen criticized the brutality of the one-child policy in Linyi, Shandong province. The Chinese government placed him under house arrest, convicted him on trumped-up charges and forced Chen to serve over four years in prison, despite serious health issues.

In a video address to China’s Premier Wen Jiabao, Chen described the repeated beatings he suffered and expressed concerned for his family. A CNN report, below, featured an English translation of the video and more details about the daring escape.

“Although I’m free, my worries are only deepening,” he said. “My wife, mother and children are still in their evil hands. They have been persecuting my family for a long time and my escape would only prompt them into a mode of revenge.”

“They broke into my house and more than a dozen men assaulted my wife,” he said. “They pinned her down and wrapped her in a comforter, beating and kicking her for hours. They also similarly violently assaulted me.”

“Those people stand at the four corners of my house, spy on my family and monitor what we do,” he said. “They installed floodlights and surveillance cameras around my house.”