The diplomatic row between the United States and China over how to treat blind Chinese human rights activist Chen Guangcheng appears to have come to an end with the U.S. issuing him, his wife Yuan Weijing and his two young children visas on May 19 and their subsequent arrival in the U.S. the same day. But this does not mean the issue has been completely resolved: That will happen when China grants Mr. Chen the right to return to China and resume his activities there.
Mr. Chen will conduct research on China’s criminal justice system and other subjects as a fellow at New York University’s U.S.-Asia Law Institute. After arriving in New York, he said, “I am grateful the Chinese government dealt with the situation with restraint and calm.” He also expressed hope that the Chinese government will endeavor to establish “justice and equality of society.” He hopes to return to China after his stay in the U.S.
Mr. Chen, who taught himself law, championed human rights for the disabled and investigated forced sterilization and late-term abortions under China’s one-child policy. He received the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2007.
On April 22, he came under the protection of the U.S. embassy in Beijing after successfully evading detection by Chinese authorities. Because he first expressed his desire to stay in China, the U.S. and China agreed to give him the freedom to study at a university in Shanghai and he moved to a Beijing hospital.
But he later changed his mind and expressed his desire to go to the U.S. instead. Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was visiting Beijing for strategic and economic dialogue with China, agreed to let Mr. Chen travel to the U.S.
Beijing’s allowing Mr. Chen to go to the U.S. appears to be motivated more by its desire to retain smooth relations with the U.S., rather than a respect for human rights.
Clearly behind human rights issues in China lies the concentration of power in the Chinese Communist Party and the existence of a privileged class born of one-party rule. China has in the past either exiled or put in prison influential democracy advocates. Mr. Liu Xiabo, the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, is serving 11 years’ imprisonment charged with instigating subversion of the state.
Beijing should undertake genuine political reform to ensure that democratic ideals enshrined in China’s constitution — which proclaims that “citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, procession, and demonstration” — become more than just hollow words.