Both China and the US acted overnight to bring an embarrassing string of incidents with dissident Chen Guangcheng to a rapid conclusion. Beijing announced earlier that they would look favorably on a request from Chen to “study abroad,” which would rid them of the international focus on their repressive regime that suddenly erupted this week:
China’s Foreign Ministry said on Friday that the dissident Chen Guangcheng can apply to study outside China in the same manner as more than 300,000 Chinese students already abroad, signaling a possible breakthrough in a diplomatic crisis that has deeply embarrassed the White House and threatens to sour relations with Beijing.
In a two-sentence statement posted on the ministry’s Web site, a spokesman, Liu Weimin, stated that should Mr. Chen wish to study abroad, he “can apply through normal channels to the relevant departments in accordance with the law, just like any other Chinese citizen.”
Speaking later at a press briefing, Mr. Liu said he was certain that “competent Chinese authorities will handle his application in accordance with the law.”
The announcement came hours after Mr. Chen, in a four-point statement conveyed by telephone to a friend, insisted that he did not want to seek political asylum in the United States but that he had been invited to attend New York University and hoped “to go to the United States and rest for several months.”
Not coincidentally, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland announced that Chen had been offered a fellowship at an American university — one apparently to be named later:
“The United States government expects that the Chinese government will expeditiously process his applications for these documents, and make accommodations for his current medical condition,” she said in the statement, adding “the United States government would then give visa requests for him and his immediate family priority attention.”
“This matter has been handled in the spirit of a cooperative U.S.-China partnership,” she said.
She said Mr. Chen has been offered a fellowship from an American university, where he can be accompanied by his wife and two children.
Thus ends, one presumes, the shockingly inept performance from the State Department and the Obama administration in handling the Chen matter. The State Department all but pushed Chen out of the US embassy in Beijing, reneged on a promise to accompany him to a hospital, and then blamed Chen for the miscommunication. They let themselves be pushed around by Beijing, which miscalculated exactly how the rest of the world would react to their heavy-handed treatment of the anti-One Child Policy dissident, but that doesn’t let the White House off the hook for its callous abandonment of a democracy activist. Smart power, indeed.
Thankfully, Chen and his family will soon be safe, and free. Unfortunately, he won’t be either of those in China, where his work is sorely needed.