Have the U.S. and China agreed a deal to end a diplomatic impasse over dissident ‘barefoot lawyer’ Chen Guangcheng?
“The Chinese Foreign Ministry said Chen may apply for travel permits to study abroad,” AP reports:
An American university has offered Chen a fellowship with provisions for his family, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, adding that the U.S. expects Beijing to quickly process their travel permits, after which U.S. visas would be granted.
“Over the course of the day progress has been made to help him have the future that he wants and we will be staying in touch with him as this process moves forward,” said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“This is not just about well known activists; it’s about the human rights and aspirations of more than a billion people here in China and billions more around the world and it’s about the future of this great nation and all nations,” she added.
Her spokeswoman says China “has indicated it will accept” the blind human rights activist’s “applications for appropriate travel documents’’ to leave his country.
If confirmed, the relatively quick resolution illustrates the salience and sensitivity of the U.S.-China strategic partnership, said Chris Johnson, a senior adviser at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and Economic Studies and a former China analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency.
“Both sides looked over the edge yesterday and decided it was time to turn the wheel back from the cliff,” Johnson said.
Any deal will have more profound political implications in Beijing than in Washington, observers suggest.
“This remarkable saga has not just embarrassed the US government, which had guaranteed his safety if he stayed in China, but has dealt a damaging blow to the credibility of Beijing and its propaganda campaign to convince citizens that China is a country ‘ruled by law,’ writes a Beijing-based analyst:
For the 40-year-old is a far more potent symbol than a traditional political dissident.
Ironically, the very illegality of his treatment at the hands of the government could provide the solution that allows him and his family to leave for the US. On Friday, China’s government conceded he was not accused of any crimes and that as an ordinary citizen he is eligible to apply for a visa to study abroad, as he says he wants to do.
“Beijing no doubt hopes his influence will fade once he is out of the country,” writes the FT’s Jamil Anderlini. “But his courage is already inspiring a new generation of activists. Some admirers even compare him with Gandhi. That may be over the top – but he has clearly shaken the confidence of the Communist party as few have done before.”
The standoff has prompted the worst crisis in U.S.-China relations since the 1989 Tiananmen massacre and highlighted the growing political rifts within China’s ruling Communist party.
“For China, the crisis falls into an ongoing struggle between increasingly visible reform-minded moderates within the Communist Party and hard-liners who emphasize security and stability at any cost,” reports suggest:
Some analysts saw Chinese officials’ quick acceptance of Wednesday’s deal as a sign of the reform faction’s sway. In many ways, China’s apparent willingness to give assurances to a foreign country about how it would treat one of its citizens was exceedingly rare.
But the deal’s rapid unraveling could, instead, boost hard-liners.
“The collateral damage here is substantial,” said Kenneth G. Lieberthal, a China expert at Brookings. “If there was a debate on the Chinese side on whether to negotiate, this certainly isn’t good for those who pushed for the deal.”
If Chen is allowed to leave or remain at large, the deal “has larger political implications,” said Nicholas Bequelin, a China researcher at Human Rights Watch. “I can’t see Beijing coming to this decision without disavowing the security apparatus.”
Although his treatment was widely reported in the international media and raised on numerous occasions by foreign governments, Beijing had refused to do anything about the situation until his escape last week .Analysts say that this was most likely because the decision to persecute and silence him was made directly by the country’s powerful security apparatus and no other senior officials dared contradict that decision.
But the political demise of former Communist party scion Bo Xilai last month has weakened hardliners in the regime, especially Mr Bo’s former close ally Zhou Yongkang, who is in charge of the all-pervasive domestic security forces.
Although he was a recipient of the National Endowment for Democracy‘s 2008 Democracy Award, following a police crackdown on his family and associates, Chen is not a traditional democracy advocate, the Washington Post’s Peter Finn reports:
He did not attack the Communist Party or the system but repeatedly exposed failures to abide by the law as it was written. ….Local people described women who were eight months pregnant being forced to have abortions. One or both parents of two children were forcibly sterilized, and relatives were held hostage until they complied, Chen reported. All this happened even though the government had outlawed coercion to achieve its development and population goals.
“To Chen, it was another maddening example of the party ignoring its own laws, and when his neighbors asked him what they should do, he suggested a class-action lawsuit against local officials,” wrote Philip P. Pan, a former Washington Post reporter, in his book “Out of Mao’s Shadow: The Struggle for the Soul of a New China.” “In the quarter century since the party adopted the one-child policy, no one had ever attempted a mass legal challenge against the state’s power to compel sterilization and abortion.”
In an interview Thursday from his hospital bed, Chen said he planned to continue “to promote social progress and judicial system improvement in China.”
“Society must become more and more fair in the future,” Chen said. “It’s just a matter of time. It depends on how many people make efforts and how big the efforts we make are.”