The big dogs that have not barked in the Chen Guangcheng case
There’s a lot that’s happened over the past week with respect to Chen Guangcheng’s status, and your humble blogger could write a 5,000 word essay on it if someone wanted to pay me gobs and gobs of cash because I’m remodeling my home I had the time. I don’t however, so I have one big thought ...
There's a lot that's happened over the past week with respect to Chen Guangcheng's status, and your humble blogger could write a 5,000 word essay on it if someone wanted to pay me gobs and gobs of cash because I'm remodeling my home I had the time. I don't however, so I have one big thought on the matter.
There’s a lot that’s happened over the past week with respect to Chen Guangcheng’s status, and your humble blogger could write a 5,000 word essay on it if
someone wanted to pay me gobs and gobs of cash because I’m remodeling my home I had the time. I don’t however, so I have one big thought on the matter.
Before I begin, given the rapid real-time developments in the Chen case, I’m operating on the assumption that China’s last Foreign Ministry statement suggests the denouement: Chen and his family will be able to go to the United States to study, and he then may or may not be allowed back into the country.
My Big Thought: contrary to just about every headline I’ve seen in the past three days, I think Chen’s case demonstrates the surprising resilience of the Sino-American relationship. Recall what I wrote earlier in the week:
The fact that both Beijing and Washington have kept their mouths shut on Chen is a pretty surprising but positive sign about the overall stability/resilience of Sino-American relations. Bear in mind that according to the latest reports, much of the leadership in Beijing takesan increasingly conspiratorial view of the United States. As for the mood in Washington, well, let’s just call it unfriendly towards China. Both sides are in the middle of big leadership decisions, making the incentive to cater to nationalist domestic interests even stronger than normal. With the rest of the Pacific Rim trying to latch themselves onto the U.S. security umbrella, this could have been the perfect match to set off a G-2 powderkeg.
Despite all of these incentives for escalating the dispute, however, it hasn’t happened. Kurt Campbell was dispatched to Beijing, talks are ongoing, and neither side appears to be interested in ramping up domestic audience costs. That escalation hasn’t happened despite massive political incentives on both sides to let it happen suggests that, contrary to press fears about Chen blowing up the bilateral relationship, there are powerful pressures in Washington and Beijing to find a solution that saves as much face as humanly possible for both sides.
Now, in the three days since I wrote that post, Chen has been released, calling every Chinese dissident, U.S. congressman and international reporter with a phone/recording device/Twitter account and is loudly and frantically describing the intimidation he and his family have experienced. The man has asked to be flown out on Hillary Clinton’s plane as she departs from the Strategic and Economic Dialogue. In other words, everything that has transpired in the past three days has given a black eye to both the Chinese and American governments’ handling of this case.
Despite the near-overwhelming incentive to ramp up bilateral tensions, however, it really hasn’t happened. China’s Foreign Mnistry has issued a couple of garden-variety press statements demanding a U.S. apology that won’t be forthcoming. There have been no leaks or anonymous criticisms of the United States otherwise, despite the fact that this entire case is a burr in China’s saddle at veery awkward moment. None of the U.S. State Department statements or press leaks have been terribly critical of the Chinese side either. Indeed, as the Washington Post observes:
Neither Clinton nor her Chinese counterparts mentioned Chen in their formal remarks at the end of their two-day meeting, saying instead that U.S.-Sino differences on human rights issues must not disrupt the broader relationship between the two world powers.
State Councilor Dai Bingguo, China’s top foreign policy expert, said his country and the United States still have “fundamental differences” on human rights issues. “Human rights should not be a disturbance in state-to-state relations,” Dai said. “It should not be used to interfere in another country’s internal affairs.”
Clinton promised to “continue engaging with the Chinese government at the highest levels” on the “human rights and aspirations” of all people.
This is pretty extraordinary. Even more extraordinary is the possiblity that despite Chen’s outspokenness, he actually could be able to leave the country with his family.
Now, as the Post shrewdly observes, "China’s Foreign Ministry said the self-taught lawyer would have to apply ‘through normal channels … like any other Chinese citizen’ — which would mean returning home to the village where he has been confined and beaten, in order to obtain a passport." Still, if the rhetoric between the U.S. and China on this boils down to Clinton asking the Chinese government to "expeditiously process" Chen’s visa application, then this is a really big dog that didn’t bark.
For other big thoughts on the matter, read these posts by Sam Crane, as well as this assessment by Walter Russell Mead.
What do you think?
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner
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