The murky diplomacy surrounding Chen Guangcheng

May 4, 2012

Chinese activist activist Chen Guangchen

Chinese activist activist Chen Guangcheng (L) is seen in a wheelchair pushed by a nurse at the Chaoyang hospital in Beijing on May 2, 2012. Credit: AFP/AFP/Getty Images

On Thursday, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) held an emergency congressional hearing regarding the blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng.

Chen, who was recently being housed in the American Embassy until leaving for a hospital room in Beijing, called in to the hearing to express his desire to come to the United States to rest, as well as his fear for his family’s safety. Smith, chairman of the Congressional Executive Commisison on China, told Chen that this situation is a test for both China and the U.S., and plans to have a follow-up hearing with testimonials from administration officials.

Chen gave up refuge in Beijing’s American Embassy when an American official allegedly told him that Chinese authorities threatened to kill his wife if he stayed. The Obama administration is denying that claim, as well as the accusation that Chen’s release was a strategic move on part of the U.S. to smooth over relations with China in advance of lengthy economic talks. The entire affair is quickly becoming politicized, as human rights activists calling for Chen’s immediate release to the U.S. are being joined by the likes of Mitt Romney and Republicans in Congress.

What is the historical diplomatic protocol for handling this type of situation? Did America do the right thing in letting Chen leave the embassy in the first place? Did Chen even leave on his own volition, or was he coerced? How should the Obama administration move forward to reach an appropriate resolution on the matter?

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