Snap Fact #182

President Obama And Secretary Clinton Work Through A Complex Diplomatic Web To Free A Chinese Dissident!
At a most inauspicious time, with Secretary Clinton in China for sensitive economic negotiations, blind human rights activist, Chen Guangcheng, a leading Chinese dissident escaped from house arrest on April 22, 2012. Chen hurt himself in the process and needed medical treatment. He made his way to the United States embassy and was given asylum and medical treatment there. The incident touched off a political firestorm in both China and the U.S.

In America, Chen's act caused every opposing element to mount their righteous soap-boxes to pontificate on the issue. Republicans alternately screamed and whined that the President is inept, or soft, or trying to destroy America. As is often the case they offered no plans or ideas of their own for working through this unexpected sticky and complex problem, but that didn't stop them from reeling off their quickly manufactured list of talking points. 

On the other side the President was characteristically low key regarding the tornado of criticism swirling around his head. As always, our Chess-Master president concentrated on the board, sought information and advice, and moved his pieces quietly and decisively towards victory. Within days the President would allow his opposition to sound hollow and foolish on one hand, while he and Mrs. Clinton worked out a very satisfactory diplomatic solution with the other hand.

Upon arriving in Beijing on May 2nd for prearranged talks, Hillary Clinton found herself in the midst of the touchy situation. Secretary Clinton made the following statement to the press, "The United States is encouraged by signs from the Chinese that a resolution on the future of blind human rights activist Chen Guancheng can still be reached." She continued, "We are encouraged by the progress we have seen today but there is more work to do. He (Chen) now says he is certain he wants to go to the United States with his family to study. She said the United States is "heartened" that the Chinese government confirmed that Chen can apply to study abroad. Chen has expressed his desire to accept an invitation he says he received from New York University". 

Upon receiving assurance for the safety of the young man and his family the young man was transferred to a hospital for proper care. The Chinese Foreign Ministry had announced in a statement that, "Chen Guangcheng is currently being treated in hospital. As a Chinese citizen, if he wants to study abroad he can go through the normal channels to the relevant departments and complete the formalities in accordance with the law like other Chinese citizens."

After being given these assurances and, seemingly out of nowhere, Chen changed course and said that he wanted to stay in China. He said that the government had offered him an opportunity to study at a university in an outlying district and that he and his family would be safe. Then, on Thursday the young man said that he had changed his mind again. By evening reports filtered out that the deal had fallen apart and that Cheng and his family were in danger if they stayed in the country. 


All along, the news from China had been sketchy and contradictory, seeming to change 180 degrees with each passing hour. At first the young man wanted to go to the U.S. with his family. He later said that his decision was to stay in China and study at the University, then it was back to the U.S. again. This contradictory scenario went back and forth for a few days leaving everyone confused. Governor Romney thought he saw an opening to criticize the President's handling of the situation when it looked like the arrangement to stay in China disintegrated. In the end he probably would have like to take his statement back. 

Romney, in a speech in Portsmouth, accused the administration of seeking to hasten Chen's departure from the embassy placing economic concerns above Chen's freedom. "The reports are, if they are accurate, that our administration, willingly or unwittingly communicated to Chen an implicit threat to his family, and also probably sped up, or may have sped up the process of his decision to leave the embassy because they wanted to move on to a series of discussions that Mr. Geithner and our secretary of state are planning to have with China," Romney said.

The Governor continued, "It's also apparent according to these reports, if they are accurate, that our embassy failed to put in place the kind of verifiable measures that would ensure the safety of Mr. Chen and his family," Romney added. "If these reports are true, this is a dark day for freedom. And it's a day of shame for the Obama administration. We are a place of freedom here and around the world, and we should stand up and defend freedom wherever it is under attack."

Unfortunately for Governor Romney, his simplistic and self-serving statement was a statement of shame for himself. It's one thing for a right wing commentator to make a thoughtless and unpatriotic remark like this, but it's quite another for a presidential candidate to do so. One need only to imagine the Governor sitting in the White House and jumping to conclusions based on information gleaned straight from a Fox News exclusive. Just imagine the consequences of such knee-jerk diplomacy. On the other hand, we have the coolly deliberate and thoughtful diplomatic instincts of the President making decisions for America. 

President Obama was sitting on the proverbial horns of a dilemma. On the one hand he was bound and determined to uphold his firm stand on civil rights throughout the world. On the other hand, his chief diplomatic and financial functionaries were in the Chinese capital for nuanced and complex negotiations that will affect future relations between the two countries. The incident had threatened to overwhelm the visit to Beijing by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who had hoped to focus on economic issues instead of thorny human rights concerns with the Chinese. 

What went on in the behind the scene negotiations is not yet known and maybe never will be. What we can surmise is that using diplomatic skills, patience, and common sense reasoning, a potentially lighted stick of dynamite was defused by our dynamic duo of Statespersons. We can say that all's well that end's well and this challenge ended with everyone winning. Can we take a chance on our foreign policy with the same people who brought the respect for the U.S. to a low ebb, or should we vote for a man who has made so many correct decisions like this one?