Blind Lawyer in US Protection Pressures China’s Regime

April 30, 2012 Updated: October 1, 2015
outspoken government critic Hu Jia (R) sharing a light moment with blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng
This undated photo shows outspoken government critic Hu Jia (R) sharing a light moment with blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng after Chen's escape, at an undisclosed location in Beijing. (STR/AFP/GettyImages)


Chinese seeking asylum with the United States seem to choose their timing for the most excruciating effect. In February a police chief in Chongqing fled to a U.S. consulate just before the visit to the United States of presumed next leader Xi Jinping. And now, with less than a week before the fourth round of the Sino-U.S. Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Beijing, the blind Chinese human rights Lawyer Chen Guangcheng managed to escape from his closely guarded house in Shandong Province.

The first case led to a political storm whose reverberations are still being felt; it is unclear yet what Chen’s escape portends for the regime. The situation will not be solved simply, however, because Chen has announced that he does not wish to leave China. He simply wants to live without the threat of persecution hanging over his head.

The fact that his persecution was conducted in an entirely extralegal fashion, and was coordinated by central authorities, may be of immense importance to the case. Chen Guangcheng was one target in a vast and sophisticated system of surveillance, censorship, repression, and violence that spans the country, reaches into cyberspace, and has the potential to touch any Chinese. Sitting atop this apparatus is Zhou Yongkang, the head of the Political and Legislative Affairs Committee (PLAC), which is responsible for almost all aspects of law enforcement in China. 

This fact will not be lost on the Party leaders who will need to clean up the mess.

Diplomatic Challenges

The U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, Kurt Campbell, arrived surreptitiously in Beijing on April 29; he happened to be photographed by foreign media, but the intention of the State Department—which did not confirm his presence—was to keep everything low key.

Campbell will be meeting with Party officials in an attempt to contain the case, according to reports. 

Remarks by Homeland Security Advisor John O. Brennan to Fox News Sunday are the only hint of the Obama administration’s thinking on the case. Brennan said that the president is trying to “balance our commitment to human rights” in the context of dealing with China.

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney called on President Obama on April 29 to do everything in the country’s power to ensure the safety of Chen Guangcheng. The incident “points to the broader issue of human rights in China,” Romney said

“My hope is that U.S. officials will take every measure to ensure that Chen and his family members are protected from further persecution,” he said, adding that “Our country must play a strong role in urging reform in China and supporting those fighting for the freedoms we enjoy.”

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Chen Stays Put

After escaping from his home, Chen uploaded online a video stating that he was in a safe place. He requested that Wen Jiabao investigate the persecution of his family, which was conducted by the PLAC.

Chen sought asylum from persecution, but doesn’t want to leave the country. “We asked him if he wants to leave China, he really doesn’t want to, he wants to fight for his basic rights to the end, he wants to live the normal life of a Chinese citizen,” said Bob Fu, president of the Texas-based ChinaAid Association.

Yang Jianli, another prominent activist, said the fact that Chen does not wish to leave China could create major difficulties for the dialogue between the United States and the Chinese regime, in an interview with Voice of America.

A Question of Law

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has begun discussions with American officials on the Chen case, according to the latest reports (and according to a Deutsche Welle report, luxury sedans, identified as belonging to the Central Military Commission, have been parked outside the Embassy for several days). 

According to Duowei News, the CCP has sent a Ministry of Civil Affairs official to the U.S. Embassy, while the National Population and Family Planning Commission, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Public Security and other departments are all assisting in the case.

The family planning office is the agency whose population control policies were so brutally implemented in Linyi Prefecture in Shandong Province that Chen saw cause to expose them, organize a class action lawsuit, and then face the wrath of the public security apparatus.