An opportunity for peaceful resolution has arisen in the ongoing saga of blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng. Chen, who escaped house arrest earlier this week, spoke with a congressional hearing on Thursday, seeking asylum for him and his family in the U.S. It’s a case that puts a focus on the delicate relationship between the U.S. and China, two countries whose fates are inextricably bound.
The human rights activist remains hospitalized in Beijing, but maintains that he fears for his family’s safety. He claims that his home has been outfitted with seven video cameras and an electric fence in the time since his escape.
Chinese officials announced Friday that Chen would be eligible to study abroad if he applied, providing a chance to diffuse the situation without direct action from either China or the U.S. New York University has already offered Chen a fellowship.
The incident has shone a spotlight onto U.S.-China relations, coinciding with a conference between officials of both countries. Chen was previously being held at a U.S. embassy, but was transferred to the state-run hospital and reunited with his family. It was then that Chen expressed his desire to leave China. Chen’s wishes have remained a point of diplomatic contention, as tensions between the U.S.-China remain apparent.
Human rights issues have long been a source of contention between the U.S. and China—an extremely proud nation that often levels charges of hypocrisy at the United States when it tries to make the case that China is dismissive of the rights of its citizens. Like many other countries, China sees the U.S. as picking and choosing the nations where it wants to press the human rights issue—looking the other way when a dictator abuses his citizens if the U.S. has important economic interests in his nation. Since the economies of the U.S. and China are so tightly intertwined, the U.S. must step gingerly whenever it is dealing with a matter that could prove embarrassing to China.
The matter of a Chinese citizen who is seeking help and rescue from the U.S. is about as potentially embarrassing as it could get for China.
Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has been closely involved with the case since its beginning, and continues to represent the American side of the affair. The Huffington Post reports that Clinton spoke with Chen by phone on Wednesday. “I hope I can get more help from her,” said Chen. “I also want to thank her face to face.”
Though the window for Chen’s safe departure from China is visible, additional negotiation by the State Department will be necessary to determine the final terms of the situation. Despite repeated efforts, U.S. officials have not been allowed to visit Chen in the hospital. Friday marked the end of the conference between American and Chinese officials, but the stand-off over Chen is far from over.