Chinese human rights activist Chen Guangcheng spent four years in jail for his role in protesting China's barbaric one-child policy, a policy which often results in government mandated abortions. Most of the victims are girls. Over time the policy has shifted the demographics of China substantially.
When Chen's jail sentence ended, he was placed under house arrest. His entire village is guarded to prevent anyone from coming to visit him. This situation briefly made news in December when actor Christian Bale attempted to visit Chen and was prevented from doing so by Chinese police.
Everything changed last week when Chen, who is blind, escaped from his prison/home and made it to the American embassy. US media reported it as a major diplomatic incident.
After six days in the embassy, during which negotiations took place between a US diplomat and the Chinese, Chen agreed to leave. And that's where the story gets really interesting. Chen now claims that Chinese pressure was being relayed to him by US diplomats.
Chen told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from his hospital room that U.S. officials told him the Chinese authorities would have sent his family back to his home province if he remained inside the embassy. He added that, at one point, the U.S. officials told him his wife would have been beaten to death.
Embassy officials deny this. However, the denial has to be read fairly closely:
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement that no U.S. official spoke to Chen about physical or legal threats to his wife and children. Nor did the Chinese relay any such threats to American diplomats, she said. She did confirm that the Chinese intended to return his family to their home province of Shandong, where they had been detained illegally and beaten by local officials angry over Chen's campaigns to expose forced abortions, and that they would lose any chance of being reunited.
So, a US spokesperson says China relayed no threats, but also confirms that China "intended" to return Chen's family to their prison/home where they had previously been beaten. It sounds like a careful, almost Clintonian, parsing of the word "threat." No one from the Chinese government needed to say "We'll beat Chen's wife unless he leaves." The threat was always implied. All they had to say was something like "She'll be returned home." As for Chen hearing this from US embassy diplomats, it's not clear how they could negotiate on his behalf if they hadn't informed him what was at stake. In short, it sounds as if diplomats are relaying what was said and Chen is relaying what was meant.
With his family effectively being held hostage by the Chinese regime, Chen agreed to leave the embassy. He may even have wanted to do so. US spokesmen claim Chen was all smiles as he left and even claim he called Hillary Clinton and told her "I want to kiss you." Chen disputes that. What he actually told Clinton (in his imperfect English) was "I want to see you." That makes sense given Chen's predicament. If it wasn't clear before, it is now. Chen wants to leave China:
"I think we'd like to rest in a place outside of China," he said. He then asked to relay a message to Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ). "Help my family and I leave safely."
It was probably wise to reach out to a pro-life Republican rather than the President or Secretary Clinton. Unfortunately for Chen, the cause he is known for (ironically a real war on women) is just not an issue of concern for the Obama administration.