May 3rd, 2012
02:34 PM ET

'Mission impossible' diplomacy in Beijing

By Jill Dougherty reporting from Beijing

Under the smoggy skies of Beijing an extraordinary diplomatic and personal drama is playing out in real time: What will be the fate of Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng, and what role will the United States have?

This drama has no script; new scenes, new acts are being written on the fly. Already it has featured what the U.S. ambassador calls a "mission impossible" effort with senior U.S diplomats bringing Chen - at his request - to sanctuary at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

The plot has twists and turns: Chen first said he wanted to stay in China to carry on his fight for human rights. Now, he tells CNN, he and his family fear for their lives and want to go to the United States.

He says he feels misled by U.S. officials, claiming he was not fully aware of the potential threats should he stay. The State Department counters by releasing photos of Chen as he made the decision to leave the embassy, showing what Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell called a "happy" and "excited" Chen.

There's another main character in this drama: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, playing a demanding dual role, overseeing U.S. efforts to help Chen, plus heading up the U.S. delegation to the Strategic and Economic Dialogue taking place in Beijing, seeking to set the road map for relations between the world's two biggest economies. The latter is the main purpose of her visit here.

In her opening remarks Thursday, Clinton avoided any mention of Chen, but said, "As part of our dialogue, the United States raises the importance of human rights and fundamental freedoms because we believe that all governments do have to answer to citizens' aspirations for dignity and the rule of law, and that no nation can or should deny those rights."

For a time, with Chen, U.S. diplomats might have thought they were writing a new kind of script. Previous dissidents either stayed in China and were subjected to torture and repression, or left. One well-known example was Fang Lizhi, a key figure in China's pro-democracy movement, who spent a year holed up at the U.S. Embassy and was forced into exile in 1990.

Chen, U.S. officials insist, was intent on staying in China, and envisioned himself continuing to play a public role.

"It was very, very clear all along," U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke told CNN's Stan Grant in an interview on Thursday. "He wanted to be reunified with his family, he wanted to stay in China, to be a freedom fighter. He did not want to go to the United States."

Locke says that, initially, U.S. diplomats had been looking at a potential Fang Lizhi scenario: Chen at one point indicated that he could not accept an initial proposal from the Chinese government to resolve his case and told embassy officials he was prepared to stay on at the embassy.

"We undertook preparations to allow him to stay," Locke said, "and to develop the procedures by which he could be living in the embassy for a conceivable year."

But at the same time, American and Chinese diplomats were working around the clock, trying to resolve the dilemma of Chen's presence at the embassy, which threatened to derail the Strategic and Economic Dialogue set to begin in just days.

After six days in the embassy, Chen opted to go to a hospital to be evaluated and treated for his injuries and other health issues. U.S. officials said the Chinese government had committed to relocate him to a "safe environment" away from the province where he and his family say they suffered brutal treatment at the hands of the local authorities. And, the officials said, China had agreed to investigate the allegations of mistreatment and promised that Chen would not face any further legal issues.

Chen, not trusting Chinese government officials, had demanded his family be brought from their village to Beijing. The authorities got them tickets on a fast train to the capital. They went to the hospital where Chen was to be.

Word that Chen now wants to go to the United States puts the matter back in the spotlight.

Were U.S. officials duped by China? Christopher Johnson, a former senior China analyst at the CIA, now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, thinks so. In an interview on WNYC radio he said one big question is what kind of assurances the Chinese government offered that Chen's safety would be guaranteed.

"I was somewhat surprised," he says, "I have to admit, that he was released into Chinese custody because, of course, they don't have the best track record on the human rights issue."

"I'm sure there will be those who say: 'Oh, you could've gotten more or you could've gotten this,'" the State Department's Campbell said. "This is the first time that a Chinese person who had suffered, who had complaints, is being relocated and that this kind of investigation is going to take place. Now we'll see, again, how this plays out. But I think what we've accomplished is extraordinary."

Locke painted a vision of a kind of Chinese version of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese opposition leader and human rights supporter who went from house arrest to being elected to her country's parliament.

"It was his hope that possibly years from now, if China had reformed," Locke told CNN, "he would then be able to go back into society. His first option - his thing that he kept telling us he wanted to do - was to be unified with his family, and to go back out into China to continue his activism."

For now, U.S. diplomats are trying to clarify exactly what Chen wants. "When we feel that we have a clear view of what his final decision is, we will do what we can to help him achieve that," one senior administration official said.

To leave China for the United States, Chen would need a Chinese passport and would have to apply for asylum while on U.S. "soil," which would mean going back to the U.S. Embassy.

Would China go along? Beijing isn't saying. But Chen's presence - either in the embassy or back in his old village - appears now to be a gigantic public relations headache. The government regularly blacks out CNN as reports on Chen's plight are aired, for example. Beijing's desire to punish Chen just might be outweighed by the desire to simply get rid of him.

Diplomatic resolutions often are worked out behind closed doors, allowing the rough edges of disagreement and horse-trading to be smoothed off before the public sees it. Right now, in Beijing, doing "quiet diplomacy" on Chen Guangcheng is tough, as each act is played out under the media spotlight.

soundoff (68 Responses)
  1. blackpapernr

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    October 17, 2012 at 2:11 pm | Reply
  2. David

    >韻萍,下次 playdate 時,讓小奕帶彈珠人,讓他們一次玩個夠!好啊好啊,到時候中小一定樂歪了>有一次我哥很誠懇的跟我說,他覺得小奕最大的一個優點就是很愛護玩具,他覺得這是很棒的優點。我覺得,這真是小奕很棒的優點,尤其是這個年紀的小男生,應該十個裡面有九個不愛惜玩具,九個裡最少有六個破壞狂吧 我家中中還算不上破壞狂,不過我肯定他是那九個裡面的其中之一,小小就很恐怖了,什麼東東都想拆可是很多玩具是禁不起拆的,特別是他哥哥的心血問題是中中平常也不特別愛惜他的玩具,只有看到小小在拆他的玩具的時候才突然有愛惜的樣子 所以可想而知我們家最常發生什麼事囉,反正我就是天天為兩兄弟的紛爭忙啦喔,小奕會愛惜玩具真是好吔~~

    June 28, 2012 at 10:28 pm | Reply
  3. Joe

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    May 15, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Reply
  4. Henry

    I have stong confidece in China government!!!!

    May 5, 2012 at 1:54 am | Reply
  5. Erc

    When Gary Locke said "Mission Impossible" one knows there's a sinister plot in this whole theater of drama. Who are these "Mission Impossible" actors, directors, script writers, planners who are behind the sinister plot to help bring Chen to the US Embassy in Beijing? Against Osama its a mission to kill but against Chen its a mission to save, but now its a save with a slap in the american face!!! All those pundits, actors and directors time will come soon when things played out. What is one Chen to 1.5billion population? do u now at the end believe what Chen has been saying all these years, an activist, dissident or comedian?? more the latter as i see. He damages himself and the good relation between China and USA. After this show, would anyone of u wants him to lecture u at your University? hope Chen will talk less erratically, spend good and happy time with his family given his condition and hopefully not to oppose just for the sake of opposing, maybe one day to write a story on the whole truth of how he lands up at the US Embassy Beijing.

    May 4, 2012 at 8:25 pm | Reply
  6. ger republikins

    wii don lyk u demokrats calin uz republikins nams n stuf. wii don lyk u demokrats cuz al u wunt 2 du iz raz taxiz n tayk awey r gunz n stuf. wii vert fer republikins cuz da represunt uz per pepl. wii don ned taxiz fer skools neder. wii kin bii hom skoold lyk mi dadii an his siztr (mi mum). i haf 2 fex da lek un mi tralr. dos demokrats r makin et rane 2 dey. ger republikins!!!!!!!!!

    May 4, 2012 at 2:16 pm | Reply
  7. Bruce Lee's gay twin

    Who's LOONIER – Chen or Tom "fist pump" Cruise and his New World Odor (Scientologists)???

    May 4, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Reply
  8. ddpp

    soon Chen is coming to America; a win win situation for the Chinese and the Obama administration,

    for Chinese...less headache from Chen, he would not be as effective as had he been in China.

    for Obama... Chinese American votes and election fund.

    May 4, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Reply
  9. AlCourts

    http://www.Hear-The-Truth.com

    May 4, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Reply
  10. Sly

    Can someone tel me how a blind man escaped house arrest fro a remote village and turnd up at U.S embassy in d heart of Beinjin. I tink i'm lost..

    May 4, 2012 at 11:04 am | Reply
  11. Jinraj Joshipura

    Title of daram should be failed mission. This incident was shameful for US and not China. However all western media portrays this as face saving solution for China. Why Mr. Chen walked out of US embassy if he escaped there. The reason was that China threatened to cancel the planned meeting with Clinton. US had to succumb. Rest of the world watched it succumb same way as it did in 2001 on Hainan island incident under President Bush. How can a host country accept the fact that visiting Foreign Minister's country engineered a kidnap of one of their fellow citizens? How can a man blind from birth know where US Embassy is or how to find it? How can Blind know what US looks like to have desire to live there? He does not even know how China looks like. This is a Hippocratic and biased reporting by the western media.

    May 4, 2012 at 9:47 am | Reply
  12. defff

    when faced with impossible situations we should stick to our principles: freedom, free speech, and human rights. you can't go wrong, even if the chinese don't like it, history will remember what we stood for.

    May 4, 2012 at 9:04 am | Reply
  13. desert voice (troubledgoodangel or Nathanael or Bohdan or Voiceinthedesert)

    I wonder how different is this case from that of Ms. Obeidi, who was raped by the Gadhafi soldiers. She also wanted out, got her wish, ... but reportedly was disappointed. She is now in the U.S. wanting to find some other place. I feel sorry for the blind dissident. But his place is definitely in China. It is unimaginable that the U.S. at this time of history create an anti-China Delta Force on its soil. You just don't do it! China is a partner and a friend. She owes trillioins for the help she has been given by the U.S. She may not repay it, but she is expected to be a good reliable friend, which now she is not. China has to be waited out, until she grows up and accounts for her "Ponzi crimes". Said differently, this marriage of convenience needs to be treated with kids gloves for now. I hope that the Chinese see the light and mature soon.

    May 4, 2012 at 6:58 am | Reply
  14. RCDC

    Time to borrow Tom Cruse mask on mission impossible.

    May 4, 2012 at 3:41 am | Reply
  15. Harry

    I find it extremely difficult to believe this story and think you should dig deeper on this story.

    Chen Guangcheng – something fishy going on here.

    Something fishy is going on here. Chen escapes house arrests in a country know to be able keep dissidents out of the public eye. He shows up at the American embassy just prior to the visit of Secretary of State, Clinton and Secretary of Treasury, Geithner. He is given protected by the Embassy for 6 days then decides that he wants to stay in China and returns to Chinese control and a day later is accepting and making international calls to and from the media and a member of the US Congress while under the eye of heightened Chinese security. How? Not possible without the approval of the Chinese government that could prevent him from making/receiving phone calls or accessing the Internet as they have done with other dissidents within China. This has to be something cooked up by the Chinese government to change the focus of the Clinton and Geithner visit.

    Harry R. White

    May 3, 2012 at 11:36 pm | Reply
    • toadears

      Well, here is how it goes: He escaped because he's blind and the people guarding him were not, plus he told them he was bedridden so they slacked off a little. He went to the embassy expecting his family to follow. That didn't happen so he wanted to stay in China because he feared they would be executed. He has a wife and two kids he did not want to leave behind. So he played the patriot China man long enough to be reunited with them. Then it was right back to wanting out. He is very media savvy. As for China....he's like a bad hair day. They can't do a thing with him! They would probably like nothing more than to kiss his butt goodbye but how without losing face??? It would set a precedent that neither China or America want, which is a deluge of defectors.

      May 4, 2012 at 1:18 am | Reply
  16. Patriot Bob

    The "activist" Chen cleverly timed his antics to coincide with Secretary Clinton's China trip. Chen's circus of nonsense has side-tracked critical diplomatic dialogue between America and China on North Korean atomic weapons, Syria's civil war, and the faltering global economy. I should run into China's embassy and allege that America is violating my rights, then I can be famous, just like the dubious Mr. Chen.

    May 3, 2012 at 10:57 pm | Reply
  17. John

    "impossible mission" ?
    lol

    May 3, 2012 at 10:39 pm | Reply
  18. KL

    Mission is very possible if & only if you don't count the dirty $$ from China [generated from sweat shops by squeezing their own citizens to death].

    You have done the similar mission before [in the 90s] when China had no $$ to lend out.

    This is $$ vs. Human rights issue. $$ may win at last !? Shame!!!

    May 3, 2012 at 9:18 pm | Reply
  19. boo

    Chen left his family KNOWING they would suffer retaliation. If you ask me he doesnt deserve any help. If he would have made arrangements for them before he bolted I might care but he abandoned them. No one helped his driver, did they?

    May 3, 2012 at 8:54 pm | Reply
    • CW

      He and his family were being beaten regularly; if you don't try to escape and tell your story, nothing would change.

      May 4, 2012 at 3:24 am | Reply
  20. nomism

    Mission Impossible, indeed. This is not a problem of America’s doing and to suggest that we should somehow "fix” Mr. Chen unhappiness with the Chinese government is foolish thinking. I am confident that there are more than 1.3 billion other “Mr. and Mrs. Chens” in China who are also dissents in their own right equally unhappy with China’s cruel and repressive system of government and equally in need of asylum. That Mr. Chen thinks that the U.S. should somehow “make” China honor its pledged to guarantee his constitutional rights, is simply ludicrous. Secretary Clinton should not meet him, nor should the U.S push for his medical treatment in the West. (I’m sure that a Chinese hospital can tend to his sprained ankle). If we do give Mr. Chen and his family asylum, who pays for him to relocate here? Equally important, what stops the other 1.3 billion “Mr. and Mrs. Chens” from hopping the U.S. Embassy walls and demanding the same thing?

    May 3, 2012 at 8:13 pm | Reply
    • desert voice (troubledgoodangel or Nathanael or Bohdan or Voiceinthedesert)

      The U.S. Ambassador in China got it right. If this man has this call to be a dissident, his mission and place is in China! There, he ma establish an opposition, and eventually topple the Politburo. The Chinese were ultimately stupid for not expelling him from China!

      May 4, 2012 at 7:04 am | Reply
  21. BradKT

    First he wants to stay, then he wants to leave, then he wants a face to face meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and now he is on a speakerphone to a Congressional hearing.

    This is BS!

    This guy is trying to manipulate US diplomats in order to advance his own political agenda. In the meantime, he has kept "moving the goal posts" so US diplomats couldn't satisfy all of his needs anyway...whatever they may be from moment to monent. This is all about him trying to stay in the spotlight by creating confusion so he can be the center of attention.

    May 3, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Reply
    • Duncan197388

      Why you want to close the door of 'Democracy" which many Chinese "democratic activist" fighting for?

      May 3, 2012 at 7:42 pm | Reply
    • Duncan197388

      Mr.Locke is nice and clever than you, he must do the" right" job, keep Mr.Blind at the spotlight and take him back to USA, THEN, don't shame himself and his government.

      May 3, 2012 at 7:48 pm | Reply
  22. Arden Cogar

    Why are so many people overlooking the fact that Chen has placed himself in this position by changing his mind? Instead everyone is trying to place the blame on others because Chen is now in danger again. But, he made the decision; it was not forced upon him.

    May 3, 2012 at 7:04 pm | Reply
  23. AgrippaMT

    Sadly, the career bureaucrats at the State Department have royally screwed things up for Mr. Chen and his family. The Chinese government cannot be trusted to keep whatever promises it may have made, but the fat cats in Washington wanted him out of the Embassy as fast as possible. This is not the first time this sort of thing has happened, and it will doubtless happen again. Let's hope Hillary has the courage to make the right decision and bring Mr. Chen and his family to America on her return flight. There is no other safe alternative for them.

    May 3, 2012 at 6:44 pm | Reply
    • Duncan197388

      You're absolutely right! Must take this Mr.Blind and his family to USA, and give him a nice house and good salary, Like the "fighter" of Dalai Lama. We'll follow this kinds of case in the future and go to USA.

      May 3, 2012 at 7:00 pm | Reply
  24. Pedro

    So many Syrian babies died and we did nothing so why should we do for a Chinese activist [idiot]? He may die as well or rot in a Chinese prison. No sympathy for this loud moth fool.
    Who cares!

    May 3, 2012 at 6:42 pm | Reply
    • Duncan197388

      One Chinese Activist like this kind, like Dailai Lama, more value than Hundreds or Thousands life of Syrian in the eye of some USA.People, so,don't fool yourself.

      May 3, 2012 at 6:51 pm | Reply
  25. scama

    'how would he got a job?' he wouldn't have to. the way our country is, they have a movie, book deal and interviews lined up before he even stepped off the plane. the whole idea of being an activist is to 'live the life' where you're trying to change things.

    May 3, 2012 at 5:46 pm | Reply
    • Duncan197388

      That's why we love America government, the U.S.A. don't care about the livelihood of ordinary people of China,Nor American People. It love these kinds of "democratic" "active" people,whom can bring trouble to "his rival".

      May 3, 2012 at 6:17 pm | Reply
  26. The Independent

    Hang your head Low OBAMA
    Hang Your Head Low

    For even children Mock you.. OBAMA is just bad B.O.

    Families without jobs and losing their homes
    and now economic stagnation is ruining all

    Hang your head Low OBAMA
    You have Failed US ALL !

    May 3, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Reply
    • Issac

      Yes, Prez Bush was much better.

      He sacraficed all in the protection of Israel. American money and blood. We are pleased.

      Israel comes first.

      May 3, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Reply
  27. Rick

    China will let this guy leave. It will be one less headache for them and one more for us, How is it our responsibility to tell him how much danger he has put himself in? He knows better than we do.

    May 3, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Reply
  28. Ann

    He doesn't even speak English. How will he get a job in the US?

    May 3, 2012 at 5:05 pm | Reply
    • Duncan197388

      Mr.Chen no need to speak English,no need to learn speak English, he can have a good living in U.S, Just do one simple job enough: Put bad word to Chinese Government when needed; Show himself when needed,just like Dalai Lama.

      May 3, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Reply
  29. Genuis8

    It seems to me that both The USA and China are the losers, with Chen masterfully manipulating the events to his personal advantage. Notice that he escaped from House Arrest and somehow with the help of others, wind up in the US Embassy in Beijing. The annual meeting by the US and China to discuss "relations" is not a secret. This timing puts pressure on both countries to resolve, without losing face.

    Then he voluntarily departs the US Embassy and goes to a chinese hospital for "Medical Treatment". Note that he got his way, to have his family Fast Tracked from their hometown, to be with him – in the chinese hospital in Beijing. Very smart move: Declare you feel your family is not safe in your hometown, fool the chinese government to let them be with him in Beijing, by voluntarily leaving the US Embassy and go for hospital treatment.

    We all know that China could/would not touch him, while he is in the US Embassy; in which he can stay forever. But we also know that the chinese government will definitely use his family as hostage. Chen also knows that, hence the successful relocation of his family, and the reunion.

    Now comes the true goal of Chen. To go to The USA with his family, by putting pressure on bothThe USA and China. You have got to hand it to this guy. Masterfully played the politicians of both countries, to get what he wanted !!! If the US diplomats do not understand what just happened, then this post serves as iluumination, from an outsider.

    The only question now is: What will China do? I am sure the chinese officials are privately fuming over how well they have been played. Machiavelli, indeed ! The blind man is the puppet master !

    May 3, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Reply
    • CW

      Your post made sense up until the last part. If he were out for himself, why bother to leave the embassy in the first place? The moment you step outside, you lose all guarantees and protections. No, I think we threw our core values under the bus for the almighty dollar.

      May 3, 2012 at 5:36 pm | Reply
      • Duncan197388

        That's the "core value" of American said like you. There still have a lot of "Un-Democratic things" and poor people in China,or in Africa. Why no open the door to these people, give them food or free visa. Don't lost your "core value" when really need.

        May 3, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • Duncan197388

      Who more clever? Who more fool?

      Who pay the bill of hospital? The gov of US, the gov of China or Mr.Blind man.

      I LOVE AMERICA, LOVE THE PEOPLE LIKE YOU CONCERNING THE "DEMOCRATIC MATTER" IN CHINA.

      May 3, 2012 at 6:43 pm | Reply
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  30. loggie

    Chen's problem is between him and China. Does every person who says he wants to come to the US get to do so? If so we should not be having any problem about immigration laws because everyone can just come on over. And if, like Chen, they can't just do it own their own we will have to help them.

    May 3, 2012 at 4:40 pm | Reply
  31. Nelson

    China is... Difficult. If there is one word that strikes me when these kinds of situations come up, it's awkward. China scares me a bit. Maybe that's what they want....

    May 3, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Reply
  32. AmericanPeasant

    At the very least we should be able to do something for Chen's family. Sure free speech is a crime in communist China, but what did his family do to deserve punishment? I think Chen should be allowed to come here if he wants to, but I accept that the communists won't stop until they have their victim under lock and key. Even then though, what the heck is his family being tortured for, and used as ransom for him to leave our embassy? Torturing the family just to get at Chen is one of the most despicable acts there is.

    If anything the guy should be released just for being blind and escaping communist secret police that had his entire village on lockdown.

    A very sad day that America sacrifices a peaceful free speech advocate in order to maintain their business relationship with the communists.

    May 3, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Reply
    • loggie

      Do you suggest that we go to war with China over Chen's present desire to come to the US? If so why? There are one and a half billion people in China. Should they all be able to come to the US?

      May 3, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Reply
  33. MissionImpossible

    Get the GOP to actually pay for the wars.

    May 3, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Reply
  34. StopNow

    Chen, stay home and fight your own war. You started it, you finish it.

    May 3, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Reply
    • Duncan197388

      No way,We "Chinese democratic Activist" fight with Chinese Government in an aim to living in USA and get a salary from the USA GOVERNMENT, Just like Dalai Lama. Don't ask us to "die in China'.

      May 3, 2012 at 6:28 pm | Reply
  35. JMorcan

    U.S. officials weren't duped, they capitulated with the Chinese so as not to upset the corporate applecart.

    "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."

    Those are Mr. Chen's own words, translated from a telephone conversation with a friend (before his phone was disconnected). Mr. Chen was handed over to his tormentors by the same hypocrites who continue to demand human rights.

    May 3, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Reply
  36. Delivery Approved after OK

    folks this guy had been in contact with usa officials before he ever got anywhere even close to the embassy , and you can be sure that he was driven into the usa grounds , so it is very clear people with big hearts responded and left their brains behind on the table where the call came in. and the final result of this obama foreign policy flop is another screw up.
    BEFORE I ANSWER , A REQUEST FOR MY SERVICE , I ALL READY HAVE A PLAN FOR THE END RESULT.

    May 3, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Reply
  37. RetiredVet

    This is "Mission Impossible" for US and China diplomats, Chen is the drama queen, indesisive and wanting everything HIS way, China will most likely dump him just to get rid of this drama queen nightmare.

    May 3, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Reply

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