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Transition 2012

A guide to foreign policy and the 2012 U.S. presidential transition.

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China Update: Chen Dilemma a Snag for the Obama Campaign

by Newsteam Staff
May 3, 2012

A security guard waves off photographers in front of Chaoyang Hospital, Chen Guangcheng is receiving medical treatment in Beijing May 3, 2012 (Carlos Barria/Courtesy Reuters) A security guard waves off photographers in front of Chaoyang Hospital, Chen Guangcheng is receiving medical treatment in Beijing May 3, 2012 (Carlos Barria/Courtesy Reuters)


Some analysts are looking at how the case of Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng is playing out on the campaign trail as President Obama faces new questions on his commitment t0 human rights in China during a bid for reelection.

Chen, who hid in the U.S. embassy in Beijing after escaping house arrest, was supposed to remain free and in China (CSMonitor) along with his family under assurances secured by the United States, but Chen changed his mind shortly after voluntarily leaving the embassy for medical attention, saying he and his family want to leave China (TheDailyBeast).

CNN’s Tim Cohen notes that Obama had hoped to capitalize on his foreign policy successes, but “the increasingly strange and challenging case of Chen provides potential fresh fodder for opponents to continue their attempts to portray the Obama presidency as soft or acquiescing to brutal regimes that abuse their own people.”

Though President Obama not commented on the issue, GOP presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney has been vocal, calling on U.S. officials earlier in the week to help Chen, and along with other Republicans more recently criticizing the Obama administration’s handling of the situation (WashPost).

At Foreign Policy, blogger Daniel W. Drezner says, “it’s the job of the opposition party in the United States to bring up questions about China’s human rights problem,” though he warns Romney’s tune is likely to change if he becomes president and is therefore no longer the opposition.

John Bolton, former UN ambassador for President George W. Bush, writes in a New York Post op-ed that the Obama administration has so far shown “indifference to Beijing’s oppressive policies” and needs to take an overall harder line with China. “While America may be unable to exert a decisive influence either on China’s future domestic affairs or its external behavior, we should not be ambiguous here. We should grant Chen asylum, insist that his family in China be protected, speak out against the ‘one child’ policy and much, much more,” Bolton says.

At The Fiscal Times, Merrill Goozner argues that a “number of recent signals pointed to an election-year shift” by the Obama administration toward a tougher stance on China well before the Chen incident.  But Goozner also points out that with the China as the Unites States’ largest creditor — holding $1.6 trillion in U.S. debt as of last June — the two countries are locked “in an uneasy embrace.”

For more on the candidates’ stances, check out CFR’s Issue Tracker on The Candidates on U.S. Policy toward China.

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CFR’s Adam Segal notes that the U.S.- China relationship has been “bumpy” regardless of who is in the White House because it lacks a guiding principal.

CFR’s Jerome A. Cohen discusses the Chen situation and tensions in the U.S.-China relationship with reporters. “This is one of the most daring, creative gambles we’ve seen in U.S.-China relations since they were established with the People’s Republic. We don’t know how it’s going to work out,” Cohen says.

The Economist notes that the Communist Party recognizes that “it must start to be more accountable and give people a legal outlet for their grievances” but the dilemma for the party” is that although the party needs the law to govern, it cannot submit to the law without losing power and giving up privileges.”

— Gayle S. Putrich, Contributing Editor

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