Live Blog: Chen Guangcheng Makes Phone Call to Congressional Hearing to Ask for Hillary’s Help

Chen Guangcheng

A short time ago, activist Chen Guangcheng made a direct call from his hospital room to a Congressional Hearing on China.

Calling in to the Congressional Executive Commission on China, dissident Chen Guangcheng told lawmakers he is concerned for the safety of his family and he wants to thank Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her efforts to help him over the past few days.

“I hope I can get more help from her,” he said over speakerphone to the two Republican lawmakers who were present.

The 40-year-old lawyer became famous last week after had taken refuge in the U.S. embassy after escaping more than a year and a half of house arrest. In a deal between the U.S. and China, Chen was then released to a Chinese hospital and is now under Chinese control. Chen initially said he wanted to stay in China but shortly after leaving the embassy he changed his mind.

“The thing I (am) most concerned (about) right now is the safety of my mother, my brothers, and I really want to know what’s going on with them,” Chen said through a translator at Thursday’s congressional hearing.

Chen said he wanted to come to the United States for some “rest,” because he has not rested for 10 years.

I’ve highlighted the portions of the article that refer to Hillary. It sounds to me as if Chen does trust Hillary. Maybe I’m naive, but I don’t see why he would be specifically asking for her help if he did not.

There is a lot of news breaking on this story, so I thought I’d put it up as a live blog so we could discuss what’s happening in China right now. I haven’t been following the story closely, but it appears to me that some very delicate negotiations are probably going on behind the scenes.

I really don’t think it’s helpful for Mitt Romney and Republican lawmakers who have no way of knowing what is really happening to be attacking the Obama administration in the midst of a human rights crisis. Hasn’t there always been tradition of the other party stepping back in situations like this and waiting for the outcome before attacking? Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it.

Here is what Mitt Romney had to say earlier this afternoon.

Romney, in a speech in Portsmouth, accused the administration of seeking to hasten Chen’s departure from the embassy placing economic concerns above Chen’s freedom.

“The reports are, if they are accurate, that our administration, willingly or unwittingly communicated to Chen an implicit threat to his family, and also probably sped up, or may have sped up the process of his decision to leave the embassy because they wanted to move on to a series of discussions that Mr. Geithner and our secretary of state are planning to have with China,” Romney said.

“It’s also apparent according to these reports, if they are accurate, that our embassy failed to put in place the kind of verifiable measures that would ensure the safety of Mr. Chen and his family,” Romney added. “If these reports are true, this is a dark day for freedom. And it’s a day of shame for the Obama administration. We are a place of freedom here and around the world, and we should stand up and defend freedom wherever it is under attack.”

So far, I haven’t been able to find any evidence that Hillary pushed Chen to leave the U.S. Embassy. I’ve read that he wanted to leave because he found out that his wife had been beaten. From the Guardian UK

The activist, who is blind, left the US embassy in Beijing after agreeing to a deal allowing him to stay in China and study law at university, with reassurances from authorities.

But it appears he changed his mind after being reunited with his wife, Yuan Weijing, and their children at the hospital, talking to friends about the risks, and learning from Yuan about apparent threats made by local officials in the eastern province of Shandong, where the family lived under a brutal regime of illegal house arrest for 19 months prior to his escape.

So Chen learned about the threats to his family after he got to the hospital and talked to his wife. He didn’t learn this from U.S. officials while he was in the Embassy. So why is Romney saying that? IMHO, it is totally inappropriate for any politician of any party to be making public statements in the midst of an international crisis. If Republicans have concerns about the situation, they should be working behind the scenes, not attacking the very people who are trying to help Chen.

Later in article the guardian reports that on Wednesday night State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland:

said in a statement that no US official spoke to Chen about physical or legal threats to his family and nor did the Chinese relay any such threats to American diplomats.

She added that Chen had expressed his desire to stay in China throughout talks.

But she confirmed US officials had passed on the Chinese warning that his family would be returned to Shandong if he stayed at the embassy.

“The problem is not that they relayed it to him – as they should have done – but that it should have raised alarm bells. You have to conclude that if the authorities were ready to play these games they were probably not ready to guarantee his safety,” said Nicholas Bequelin of Human Rights Watch.

Gary Locke, the US ambassador, told reporters he could say unequivocally that Chen was never pressured to leave the embassy.

Even if the State Department erred, I think it is wrong for Romney to be attacking the administration in the middle of tense and delicate negotiations taking place on the other side of the world.

What do you think? I’m continuing to read about this case and will add more links in the comments.

45 Comments on “Live Blog: Chen Guangcheng Makes Phone Call to Congressional Hearing to Ask for Hillary’s Help”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    Chen contacted Daily Beast writer Melinda Liu.
    She writes:

    I’ve known Chen Guangcheng for more than a decade—he’s been through intimidation, beatings, jail, and extralegal house arrest—but through it all I never sensed he was scared. Now he’s scared. Chen, whose case has escalated into a bilateral crisis that threatens to dominate Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Beijing this week, was weeping as he talked to me over the phone from his hospital bed.

    Chen told her that there had been many Americans around at first but then they all left. Since he is blind, it’s difficult for him to tell what’s going on around him.

    The hours ticked by, and Chen became more and more agitated. Even though he’d originally told friends and embassy officials that he wished to remain in China, now he wanted to leave. “I hope to seek medical treatment in the U.S. with my family, and then I want to rest,” he said. “As for the future, we’ll deal with that in the future.” At the hospital, Chen’s fears mounted as his wife told him she’d been tied to a chair, beaten, and interrogated by Chinese guards after they learned he had entered the U.S. embassy in Beijing last Friday.

    He and his family were not even given anything to eat at the hospital until 9PM when they contacted the Embassy on Wed. night. As of this morning, they still had heard nothing from American officials.

    • bostonboomer says:

      The article says that a friend offered to get Chen out of China on the “underground railroad,” but at the time Chen said no. Now he really wants to go said the friend but he and his family don’t have passports and they would have to return to their home province (which is dangerous for them) to get them.

      “If the U.S. can intervene [says the friend], and if the Chinese central government can make a phone call, those passports can be ready in a day. It might require a diplomatic push,” said Fu hopefully. “Nothing would make me happier than to get Chen and his family onto Hillary’s plane out of there.”

      And nothing would thrill Chen more, either. “Please try to contact the embassy to send someone over here. I need your help, I’m absolutely, absolutely ready to fly out on Hillary Clinton’s plane. Please tell the embassy what I’m saying, Meiyuan,” he pleaded from his hospital room, using my Chinese name. “I don’t know why the Americans didn’t answer my phone calls.”

      I sure hope they’re going to help him.

  2. ecocatwoman says:

    I had NPR on all day yesterday & today. Nothing but mixed messages being reported. I can’t tell what the true story is. Dr. Jerome Cohen was interviewed on On Point yesterday. Apparently he’s a friend of Chen Guangcheng. His interview was totally supportive of the US actions & said many of the stories coming out weren’t true. He sounded rather naive to me, but I don’t know why. I couldn’t find the transcript, but here’s a link to the show for podcast: and here’s a link to an LA Times story about Cohen

    I just don’t see how this is going to turn out well for Guangcheng, his family or the US. Not that I don’t hope that it does.

    • bostonboomer says:

      I don’t believe for one minute that Hillary would simply abandon these people. In any case, Mitt Romney needs to STFU and stay out of it. He has no idea what is going on, and if he’s really worried about it he should be working with Congress behind the scenes.

      • ecocatwoman says:

        I don’t want to believe Hillary would abandon them. However, between my overall cynicism & the many political implications, I can’t do anything but worry. With China holding most of our debt, they have the US by the short hairs. With an impending election, there’s a lot of crap in the balance. It could come down to the future of the US vs Guangcheng & his family. And remember, Obama is a PRAGMATIST. If he says no, would Hillary defy him?

      • bostonboomer says:

        She wouldn’t defy the President, but why would Obama want to create a public relations disaster for himself when he’s trying to get reelected?

      • bostonboomer says:

        I don’t understand what you mean. China isn’t going to cut us off. They’d only be hurting their own economy if they did. Besides, I’ve just posted a couple more links that show that the U.S. is still actively trying to help Chen.

      • RalphB says:

        China does not hold most of our debt! Something like over 80% is owned by ourselves through the SS trust fund etc. That they are our only banker is just foolishness.

    • Seriously says:

      This says that he left the Embassy of his own free will and he only wants to come to the US temporarily, but then maybe he’s being intimidated.

      • bostonboomer says:

        It was his choice to leave, but once he found out that he might never see his wife and children again if he stayed, he really didn’t have a choice. I would have done the same thing.

      • Seriously says:

        No, I know, I meant in this article the WaPo is painting a very chipper picture. They even say that he didn’t sounded relaxed and happy, as opposed to Liu’s reporting.

      • bostonboomer says:

        Oh, I see. Sorry.

        Wait, those are direct quotes from Chen:

        Blind activist Chen Guangcheng, in a telephone interview early Friday, said he voluntarily left the U.S. Embassy in Beijing to see his family and get treatment at a nearby hospital, but he said the Chinese government so far is not honoring an agreement to fully restore his freedom and allow American diplomats in to see him.

        “I left the U.S. Embassy on my own free will,” Chen told a Washington Post news assistant who reached him by telephone shortly after midnight. “I wasn’t tricked into leaving. If I didn’t want to leave, I could have stayed, and no one would have forced me to leave.”

        Chen said he left the embassy to be reunited with his wife and children at the hospital. “The U.S. Embassy helped me a lot,” Chen said. “I really appreciate their help. They did a good job. But I don’t think the Chinese side is obeying the agreement well.”

        “My biggest wish right now is that the agreement concerning me is fulfilled well,” Chen told the Post. “The agreement includes more than three points, including the U.S. side being able to visit me regularly, and China should guarantee my rights as a citizen.”

        “I didn’t have a chance to see the U.S. officials today,” Chen said, referring to Thursday. “We had phone conversations, but they were quite short. We didn’t discuss real issues on the phone.” U.S. officials on Thursday expressed frustration that American diplomats, along with an American doctor, had been prevented from visiting Chen in the hospital.

  3. bostonboomer says:

    Chinese media breaks silence on blind activist.

    Most Chinese people don’t even know who Chen is.

    As Newsweek’s Melinda Liu writes, Chen Guangcheng knows more than most people in China about state repression. Chen first began working in Shandong province on disabilities and farmers’ rights. His moderate success led other marginalized rural people to turn to him in their quest for justice. In 2005, villagers recruited him as a vocal advocate against officials in the Shandong city of Linyi, who had begun a brutal campaign to punish families trying to escape China’s restrictive “one-child” population-control policies.

    Chen’s compelling personal story and his legal advocacy made him something of a folk hero in Shandong. And his work to set right injustices laid bare the hollowness of the Chinese Communist Party’s line that the country is governed by the rule of law.

    But as the head-snapping details of Chen’s daring escape from house arrest and brutal persecution by plainclothes police in Shandong province set Twitter and international news media ablaze over the last week, Chinese state media reported … nothing.

  4. Fannie says:

    You know, I am just about sick of the GOP, if it were the other way around, they would be calling the dems “unpatriotic”………………..and I’ve noticed to that Mitt is throwing the word “FREEDOM” around like he owns the granchise on “freedom” when in fact he and the GOP are the ones who have been passing laws that restrict our very freedoms here at home.
    He doesn’t know the story going down here with this young man. There are dissenting people all over this world, thousands, and thousands, and Mitt has decided he knows this story, what bullschitt.

    Keep you eyes and ears peeled on Mitt and his continual use of the terms “freedom and economy”………

    • bostonboomer says:

      For Mitt, freedom means the ability to stomp on the serfs and take everything they have.

  5. bostonboomer says:

    This story just came out at 8PM eastern: Activist Chen Guangcheng: Years of fearless advocacy, and a week of anguish

    There is a photo gallery of him with his family.

  6. bostonboomer says:

    According to The Hill, Chinese police have surrounded the hospital and won’t let any U.S. officials in.

    “I want to meet with Secretary (of State Hillary) Clinton,” Chen said Thursday in a surprise phone call during an emergency hearing called by Rep. Chris Smith (R-Calif.). “I hope I can get more help from her. I also want to thank her face to face.”

    The senior administration official said that on Wednesday, U.S. officials in China met Chen’s wife and children and accompanied them to the hospital. During that time Chen’s wife spoke by phone with Chen, who was still at the embassy.

    At 3 p.m. Beijing time, U.S. officials accompanied Chen from the embassy to the hospital, where officials remained until about 6:30 p.m., the senior administration official said. U.S. officials spoke to Chen two more times by phone on Wednesday, the senior administration official said.

    On Thursday, U.S. officials had two more conversations with Chen while helping to connect Chen’s wife with the dissident’s lawyer. The U.S. embassy doctor also spoke to the hospital doctor that evening.

  7. bostonboomer says:

    Jonathan Capehart agrees with me anyway:

    When there’s a situation as fluid as what’s going down in Beijing between the Obama administration and the Chinese government over blind attorney Chen Guangcheng, it’s best for those not directly involved to sit back and watch. This is especially so of those running to unseat the sitting president. But Mitt Romney just couldn’t hold his tongue.

    “We’ve heard some disturbing things from across the world that suggest that, potentially, if the reports are true, some very troubling developments there,” Mr. Romney said, according to a report in the New York Times. “If these reports are true, this is a dark day for freedom and it’s a day of shame for the Obama administration.” Missing from that statement is what exactly what Romney would do and how he planned to deal with the fallout from said action.

    Seeming to fight for Chen was a messy move for Romney. But what it lacked in long-term thinking it made up for in short-term benefit. For it shifted the day’s conversation away from Romney’s unwillingness to fight for Richard Grenell.

  8. bostonboomer says:

    This is from the WSJ:

    Beijing is on the back foot as Mr. Chen is already one of the most effective activists in China on human rights and the rule of law. Now he will garner even more attention.

    While this case is unusual, it sets an important precedent in U.S.-China relations. Nobody doubts the importance of U.S.-Chinese cooperation on a range of issues, but that cooperation becomes counterproductive when it comes at the expense of the core values America embodies and the Chinese people admire. As for Beijing, it will only take its place in the world as a respected power when it also honors those values—and its own laws.

    The op-ed doesn’t fault the administration.

    • RalphB says:

      Up to now, I haven’t read anything to fault the administration for other than maybe not being telepathic and able to teleport Mr Chen and his family out of China. This situation could go on for some time and get really sticky before it’s over. Willard needs to shut his pie hole!

      • Was there this kind of backstabbing campaigning going on when Reagan was running against Carter? I can’t remember specifically…

      • bostonboomer says:

        Other than Reagan and Bush negotiating with Iran to have the hostages released on Inauguration day?


      • quixote says:

        The dirty work re stabbing Carter in the back was very hush hush. Officially, at the time, it all “just happened that way.” In public and for show there was a higher standard of politeness expected. Lee Atwater, if I remember right, really started the modern style of campaigning around 1984. Even he would be horrified by how far politicians have taken it, I suspect.

  9. There is this from the state department: This is what Hillary had to say today. No mention of Chen, but I can’t help but thinking how difficult it is for people trying to help. Travel Diary: Secretary Clinton at the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue | U.S. Department of State Blog

  10. Philip J. Crowley ‏ @PJCrowley

    The intense limelight on #China will help #ChenGuangcheng, but as @CurrentSpitzer suggested, Chen’s support network will be at risk.

    52 min ago

    • RalphB says:

      This would all be so much easier if Chen had just asked for asylum while in the Embassy. Leaving and then changing his mind may make this case impossible. What a mess.

      • bostonboomer says:

        From what I’ve been reading, Chen is still conflicted about whether he really wants to leave China. I posted a WSJ article somewhere about other activists who are advising him. Some think he has done enough and needs to leave. Some are begging him to stay and continue to fight. He doesn’t really want to leave China, so he’s very torn.

        He should have asked for asylum, but Chinese officials were threatening him that he would never see his family again unless he left the embassy.

      • RalphB says:

        This is an understatement from Chen’s lawyer.

        “They may have relied too much on his emotional stability,”

      • RalphB says:

        Since China is a sovereign nation, I’m concerned about just what we can do for him now.

  11. The Daily Show ‏ @TheDailyShow

    Tonight: Even our diplomatic fiascos are made in China.

  12. bostonboomer says:

    US seeks solutions for China activist

    Chen’s high-profile effort to keep his case in the public eye increased pressure on Washington and embarrassed Beijing as it hosted Clinton and other U.S. officials for annual talks on global political and economic hotspots.

    U.S. officials said they would speak with Chen and his wife again Friday, then approach the Chinese with possible options. They did not say what those options could be, or if they expected to visit Chen in person. They were unable to do so Thursday, when they spoke to him by telephone.

    Clinton, who will meet with President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, is expected to raise Chen’s case. She will also hold a news conference later Friday.

  13. janicen says:

    I’ve been distracted by some things, so I haven’t had the chance to comment about this but I have some questions. How did a blind guy “escape” and travel 400 miles in uber controlling China, and how does he now have access to a phone and be able to call and chat with congressional Republicans? It seems to me that for someone in custody in China, he has an awful lot of access to phones and the press. If one were a jaded cynic one would almost conclude that the Chinese were allowing all of this in order to embarrass Secretary Clinton and the State Department and therefore diminish US foreign policy, the one undeniable success of the Obama administration.

    • RalphB says:

      They’ve reached some tentative deal. Apparently Chen’s problems were not with the national government but only with the locals in his home town. He faces no criminal charges in China. That’s very interesting.

      • janicen says:

        The whole thing feels wrong to me. I don’t know what it is, but it seems there’s a play here. If China was really clamping down on this guy he never would have escaped and he certainly wouldn’t be making phone calls now that he’s in custody.

      • RalphB says:

        I agree with that, though it could be that the national government was really unaware of his problems in the local province. Seems really odd to me.

  14. Woman Voter says:

    First, let me say I support Chen Guangcheng and his current plight. He is in tight spot and so is his family.

    NOW, the interesting thing is that he got through to a congressional hearing and WOMEN can’t even be on a congression planel in the FREE United States on Reproductive Care? Maybe we can take a lesson from Chen Guangcheng and call in too!