Friend of Chen Guangcheng: Hillary Clinton Can Save Him

Opinion   |   Steven Ertelt   |   May 3, 2012   |   7:47PM   |   Washington, DC

In comments to a Congressional hearing today on forced abortion opponent Chen Guangcheng ChinaAid founder and president Bob Fu said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has time to save Chen Guangcheng from injury or death.

Fu, who has been a long-standing champion of Chen and who has been in regular contact with him and his supporters since Chen managed to escape his captors who have held him in extra-judicial house arrest since October 2010, was one of several human rights activists who testified before a House panel today. His full comments appear below:

On Sunday April 22, 2012, the blind activist and lawyer Chen Guangcheng, who has endured long-term persecution because of his attempts to fight China’s population control policy, miraculously escaped from his home, which had become his prison. With the help of supporters, he fled in secret to Beijing, then took refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.  Following more than a week of dramatic developments, this human rights defender who has captured the world’s attention and admiration was handed over by U.S. officials to the Chinese authorities yesterday, May 2, in Beijing’s Chaoyang Hospital.  That the developments of the past week have resulted in such an outcome was shocking, regrettable, heartrending and disappointing.

As the president of China Aid Association, I am familiar with the details of Chen Guangcheng’s escape and was in contact with the team of people who helped Chen flee to Beijing.  After Chen left the U.S. Embassy, I stayed in close contact with both the relevant U.S. government officials and people who are intimates of Chen and who had been in telephone communication with him.  From them all, I have amassed a great deal of first-hand—albeit incomplete—information.  In the developments that have led to the current situation, there are some important episodes that are confusing and need immediate clarification.

1.  According to the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and the official Chinese announcement, Chen Guangcheng left the embassy of his own volition.  However, according to the Associated Press and first-hand information from Chen’s friend and fellow lawyer Teng Biao and from Zeng Jinyan, the wife of dissident Hu Jia, U.S. officials relayed to Chen the threat made by the Chinese side to kill Chen’s wife Yuan Weijing, and it was after learning of this threat that Chen was left with no choice but to reluctantly leave the U.S. Embassy.  Furthermore, Chen Guangcheng clearly said to me by telephone from the hospital, as well as to the two aforementioned friends and to the Associated Press, that he wished to leave China with his wife and children.  Even more surprising, a transcript of an interview with CNN that was released this morning clearly shows that Chen was repeatedly urged and pressured to leave the U.S. Embassy and that U.S. Embassy officials had misled and even lied to him; it was under these circumstances that Chen Guangcheng decided to leave the embassy.  He expressed disappointment with the U.S. government, and through CNN, he made an appeal to President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to help his family leave China.
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2.  Both in the telephone briefing I received yesterday morning from U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner, and in the conference call yesterday afternoon hosted by White House officials for some NGO representatives, senior U.S. officials said they were unaware of the threats against Chen’s family members.  This explanation reveals a lack of basic understanding about China, and is both regrettable and unacceptable. Chen Guangcheng and his family have long been deprived of their freedom by Chinese authorities who have abused them many times, often violently—this reality is known to the whole world.  Chen Guangcheng sought refuge in the U.S. Embassy out of fear for his personal safety; then he hears that his wife has been taken hostage and brought to Beijing.  Under such circumstances, how could Chen Guangcheng’s departure from the U.S. Embassy possibly have been voluntary?

3.  Based on what I have learned of the negotiations between the U.S. and Chinese governments, the two sides reached an agreement on the following five points:
i.    the two sides would issue a joint communiqué;
ii.    the Americans agreed to allow the Chinese side to arrange a reunion of Chen and his family in Chaoyang Hospital;
iii.    the Chinese would allow the U.S. side to visit Chen Guangcheng;
iv.    the Chinese central government agreed to relocate Chen Guangcheng to another location and to arrange for him to enroll in a university to study law;
v.    the central government would listen to Chen Guangcheng’s account of what he had suffered in his hometown.

These provisions did not include measures for how to ensure the freedom and safety of Chen and his family, nor did they touch on the subject of the family’s freedom to travel and how issues like passports and other questions related to overseas travel would be handled.

4.  I fully agree with the suggestion put forth by Human Rights Watch that, since Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is currently in Beijing, she should personally go to see Chen Guangcheng and accurately explain to him the U.S. government’s decision.  At this time, there are serious inconsistencies in the information from the two sides, and this is having the detrimental effect of leading one to wonder if the Chinese and U.S. governments have struck a shameful deal.

5.  The U.S. State Department announced that it had reached an agreement with the Chinese side that would guarantee the safety of Chen Guangcheng.  But how is it possible to believe that a government responsible for the long-term illegal imprisonment and the violent abuse of Chen Guangcheng and his family will now abide by this agreement?  Furthermore, the agreement does not include any measures to guarantee the safety of the family of Chen’s brother Chen Guangfu and of those friends who helped Chen Guangcheng to escape.

6.  The truth of what happened can only be substantiated by Chen Guangcheng once he is a free man.  If Chen Guangcheng has been betrayed, then neither the Chinese nor the U.S. side wants the day to come when Chen Guangcheng will be free to reveal the truth.  Therefore, we hope Congress will investigate the facts so that the public can know which is the responsible party and to restore U.S. credibility in the international arena.

7.  At present, one fact is both clear and undeniable:  after being taken to Chaoyang Hospital to see his wife and two children, Chen Guangcheng in a telephone call to me clearly expressed his desire to leave China with his family.  He has also expressed this wish to his two good friends and to the Associated Press and CNN.  Therefore, the U.S. State Department’s statement saying that Chen Guangcheng wishes to remain in China is outdated and no longer valid.

The developments in this Chen Guangcheng incident have shown the world that the Chinese Communist government is above the law, wantonly abusing an honest and law-abiding citizen.  At the same time, everyone has seen the inestimable conscience of Chen Guangcheng, his courageous fight for justice and human rights, and his indestructible hope.  These events have also shown the world that this authoritarian regime which has engaged in a protracted struggle for the conscience of a blind man has been defeated.

Chen Guangcheng has expressed to the world his desire to leave China, but while the U.S. delegation led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is still in Beijing, there is still a chance to turn the situation around.  At this critical juncture, Congress ought to stand up and step forward to turn the tide and prove to the world that the United States is still a democratic country, still the country established by God as the designated place of refuge for those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, and still defends universal human rights and freedom and stands unyielding in the face of evil.

To remain a great nation, the United States must demonstrate that this is so.

May God bless the United States and also bless Chen Guangcheng and his whole family.