Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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Congress Should Investigate the Case of Mr. Chen

by Elliott Abrams
May 3, 2012


It is difficult to draw final conclusions about the case of Chen Guancheng. He is unable to speak freely, and U.S. officials probably are as well, for a different reason: they have a variety of motives for whatever they say. They want to protect U.S.-PRC relations, the reputations of Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Locke, and the political interests of President Obama–and are probably more intensely focused on those goals than the protection of Mr. Chen. It may be a while before all the facts are clear.

But this morning CNN provided the transcript of a call with Chen, and here are some of the key portions:

Q: U.S. officials said you looked optimistic when you walked out of the embassy, what happened?

A: At the time I didn’t have a lot of information. I wasn’t allowed to call my friends from inside the embassy. I couldn’t keep up with news so I didn’t know a lot of things that were happening.

Q: What prompted your change of heart?

A: The embassy kept lobbying me to leave and promised to have people stay with me in the hospital. But this afternoon as soon as I checked into the hospital room, I noticed they were all gone.

Q: Has the U.S. disappointed you?

A: I’m very disappointed at the U.S. government.

Q: Why?

A: I don’t think (U.S. officials) protected human rights in this case.


Q: Is it true no one from the embassy picked up your calls?

A: Yes. I called two embassy people numerous times.


Q: Do you feel you were lied to by the embassy?

A: I feel a little like that.

Q: What has this ordeal taught you?

A: I feel everyone focuses too much on their self-interest at the expense of their credibility.

Q: You’re both still up at 3 a.m. — feeling anxious?

A: Yes, we feel a lot of anxiety….I told the embassy I would like to talk to Rep. Smith (Congressman Chris Smith) but they somehow never managed to arrange it. I feel a little puzzled.


If these statements and descriptions by Chen are accurate, the Obama administration, the Department of State, Clinton, and Locke have a great deal to answer for. This is not the first time the United States has faced a similar situation (similar in that a foreign national was inside a U.S. embassy); for example, after fifteen Pentecostals rushed past KGB guards into the U.S. embassy in Moscow in 1978, the United States protected them and allowed them to stay there for five years before their emigration was negotiated by President Reagan and Secretary of State Shultz. But Chen’s words draw a picture of officials who cut him off from outside contact and pressed him to leave the embassy, which is repellent and shameful if true. If the embassy kept lobbying Chen to leave, we ought to find out exactly who made the decision that this would be U.S. policy.

How will we ever know? Let’s start with a Congressional investigation of exactly what happened. The Obama administration cannot be trusted to investigate itself, to be sure, so Congress would seem to be the best bet. The China analyst Minxin Pei, writing in the Wall Street Journal today, reminds us that China’s rulers face a deep crisis:

This past week, the daring escape of blind rights activist Chen Guangcheng from illegal house arrest to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing provoked another crisis. When rulers of one of the most powerful countries in the world have to worry about the defiant acts of a blind man, it’s high time for them to think the unthinkable: Is the Communist Party’s time up?….The odds do not look good for those in Beijing who want to maintain the status quo indefinitely. They must begin thinking about how to exit power gracefully and peacefully. One thing the party should do immediately is end the persecution of potential opposition leaders like Mr. Chen and Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel Peace Prize winner now in Chinese prison. The party will need them as negotiating partners when the transition to democracy eventually begins.

Pei is right, but from what we know today it appears that the Obama administration sided with the PRC’s policemen rather than Mr. Chen. Congress ought to find out what happened, for if that is what Mr. Obama and Secretary Clinton decided it was not only immoral but very poor and short-sighted foreign policy.


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