Asylum in America for Chinese dissident?

No one is saying anything, but it looks like blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng is going to find refuge in the land of opportunity.

The National Post is reporting that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton left for China on Monday, where Chen is allegedly hiding in the American embassy in Beijing:

“Guangcheng, according to one of his helpers, will demand to stay in China and press on with his campaign for reform, adding to tension between Beijing and Washington that poses risks for both governments as well as to relations between the world’s two biggest economies.

Both governments have scrupulously avoided official comment on the Chen case and neither has confirmed that he is under U.S. protection in Beijing.”

So what’s the big deal with Chen?

The blind lawyer lobbied hard against forced abortions as a means of population control in China, and had been under house arrest since 2010. Actor Christian Bale brought the issue to the spotlight when he attempted to visit Chen’s home recently, and was later chased from the area by the Chinese secret service.

The Ottawa Citizen had a little more background:

“On Friday, a video of Chen was posted online in which he confirmed that he’d fled his village of Dongshigu in Shandong province. Styled as an open letter to Premier Wen Jiabao, seen by many as a reformer in China’s authoritarian system, Chen named some of the men who he said rushed into his home and beat him and his wife on multiple occasions.

“They all belong to the public security system, even though they don’t wear any uniforms,” said Chen, 40, wearing a black tracksuit jacket with a yellow Nike stripe and large sunglasses.

He urged Wen to open an investigation, saying that his mistreatment had harmed the image of the Chinese Communist Party.

Chen was sentenced to 51 months in 2006 after his efforts to expose local officials’ rough enforcement of China’s family planning laws, including dragging women out of their homes to undergo forced abortions. After being released from prison in September 2010, Chen, largely self-taught in the law, was placed under a home detention that included rings of security personnel said to stretch throughout the village.

The decision to make a bolt for freedom was, for the family Chen left behind, an especially risky gambit. Still in Dongshigu are his son, wife and mother.”

So what happens now?

Time Magazine says Chen is a hot-button topic for both the US and China. Obama doesn’t want to be seen as too soft on human rights issues, and with the elections looming, needs to maintain political credibility. China, for its part, can’t be seen as caving to American demands, setting a precedent for future dissenters, or as having such a failed internal security service that a blind lawyer was able to escape a town which was under complete lockdown:

“Washington’s advocacy of political freedom, free trade, and human rights is intrinsic to the renewal of U.S. leadership in Asia. As the only major power in the region that is not a liberal democracy, China is being reminded by Washington that it is the outsider despite its rising importance. With Chen now apparently under American protection in Beijing, simply handing him back to Chinese authorities will run the risk of the perception that Washington does not have the political will to make good on its promises …

Yet, intransigence on this issue will not quell civil unrest, or inhibit the rise of other dissidents within China. It will heighten China’s moral isolation, and leave it open to the accusation that the leaders of the world’s second largest economy have yet to conclude a durable and legitimate political and social pact with its people. In short, if Beijing allows Chen’s flight to freedom and safety, the Communist Party will appear weak and incompetent. But digging its heels in over the issue will only heighten the Party’s image of insufficient legitimacy.

When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner arrive in Beijing for the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue on May 3, both sides will want a face-saving resolution. Despite the likely official rhetoric of mutual respect and understanding, there can be no genuine win-win solution.”

What do you think? Is there any way for either party to win this battle? What should happen to Chen now?

Read more about France, America, China and the world beyond in the latest edition of Carnet Atlantique!

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