It's starting to look like the U.S. got had in its dealings with China over the release of blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng. While the agreement to move Chen to the United States for legal study remains on track, we're starting to learn what the agreement doesn't include.
The most obvious omission, reported Thursday, is the blowback against his relatives and supporters. "Now they're going crazy with reprisals," Chen said in a telephone interview with Reuters. Officials have reportedly restricted his family's movements and confiscated their cell phones. And it appears the crackdown can't be easily dismissed.
Wall Street Journal analyst Russell Leigh Moses says the treatment of Chen's relatives comes from the top. "It would be wrong to think that Chen’s case is another example of local authorities getting away with bad behavior while the central government stayed ignorant," he writes. Moses says Chinese officials are aware they're under the microscope but are "far more concerned with being seen as hanging tough than they are with being generous." You can be sure that U.S. officials are making the connection as well. And if that's a troubling realization, so are the holes in the U.S.-Chinese agreement with Chen.
Taking a closer look at the conditions of Chen's release, The Los Angeles Times' Renee Xia uncovers some glaring gaps. "The 'deal' includes no provisions that abusive authorities will lose the total immunity they enjoy from any criminal investigation for tormenting Chen and his family and harassing supporters," she writes. "Beijing made no commitment to release Chen's nephew, detained for resisting intruders in his house, or to refrain from further retaliation against supporters. Jiang Tianyong, a Beijing lawyer, was detained after he attempted to visit Chen last week and beaten so severely that his left eardrum appears to have been ruptured."
At this point, China's promise to allow Chen to study abroad is looking a lot less magnanimous. Especially considering the remarks by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she expressed concern about Chen's family. “The United States government and the American people are committed to remaining engaged with Mr. Chen and his family in the days, weeks and years ahead." It's going to be hard to stay engaged with Chen's family if their phones are confiscated and they're detained.