Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng talked to the media a lot yesterday and his version of events is making it look like American officials abandoned him to avoid upsetting the Chinese government. Chen believes he was misled about what would happen to him and his family if he left the U.S. embassy and stayed in China, but it's becoming clear from his comments to American news outlets that he also feels it was not the Chinese, but U.S. diplomats who wronged him.
American officials have claimed all along that Chen left the U.S. embassy of his own volition after six days hiding out after escaping his house arrest. They insist he never asked for asylum and that it was only after his release that he changed his mind about seeking to leave the country. But in an interview with CNN shortly after leaving the embassy, translated here from Mandarin, Chen says that the Americans pressured him leave, then abandoned him in the hospital. He even goes so far as to say he feels like the American ambassadors lied to him.
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.
He's given similar comments to the AP, The New York Times, and other journalists, claiming that the Americans told him that his family would be harmed if he did not accept a deal that the Chinese were offering to relocate him. (The American ambassador denies that charge.) Chen says that not only is the Chinese government not going to allow him to live as a free man as promised, they've actually increased the surveillance and intimidation tactics at his home-turned-prison. He worries that as soon as the world turns its attention elsewhere "anything" could happen to him and his family.
All the diplomatic back-and-forth between Chen, the Americans, and the Chinese (who are still looking for that apology) has created a lot of confusion, even among the diplomats. It's not entirely clear what the Chinese may or may not have promised (or threatened) to the Americans and to Chen. Did the U.S. embassy simply want to wash their hands of him, or did they honestly believe he was going to be okay if he left? Either way, the incident is looking like a massive diplomatic failure for the United States.
Chen, meanwhile, is keeping his hopes for freedom alive by appealing to the American sense of justice ... and shame. By calling on the United States and specifically Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to "protect human rights," he's forcing them to put up or shut up in a very tangible way. Human rights protection is a goal they claim to support every time they're dealing with the Chinese and now is their chance to prove they mean it. If they don't find a way to get Chen and his family out of the country and keep them safe — a task made much more difficult now that he's no longer in their hands — then how can they be trusted to help anyone?