Dissident Chen Guangcheng: Chinese papers launch propaganda war
AFTER a week of almost total silence, Chinese newspapers today collectively launched a propaganda attack on Cheng Guangcheng, the blind lawyer at the centre of a tug of war between the China and the United States.
The Beijing Times, the Beijing News, the Beijing Youth Daily, the Global Times and the English language China Daily labelled the 40-year-old Mr Chen as a "tool of the United States" who was being manipulated into a political attack on China.
The Beijing Youth Daily added that the United States had "violated basic diplomatic norms and ethics" in sheltering Mr Chen for six days after he miraculously escaped from his home village.
"Gary Locke (the US ambassador) is putting on an attention-grabbing performance, the usual hypocrisy of Western politicians," said the newspaper. "The US does not have a benevolent role in getting involved in Cheng Chengguang's affairs, but has found a way to disturb China".
The sudden attacks on Mr Chen could be interpreted two ways. They could be an attempt at face-saving ahead of a possible departure by Mr Chen to the United States, or they could spell an ominous future for him if he remains in China.
The US is locked in negotiations with China over Mr Chen, who has pleaded to be allowed to leave with Hillary Clinton when she flies from Beijing to Bangladesh tomorrow.
However, US officials, led by Robert Wang, the deputy chief of mission, did not appear to have been able to see Mr Chen when they arrived at Chaoyang hospital, where he is being treated, at midday.
Instead, they left some bags with Mr Chen's wife, Yuan Weijing, including a new mobile phone, some groceries, and what may have been a present for Kerui, Chen's son, whose birthday it is.
Senior US officials privately acknowledged missteps in the handling of Mr Chen's case, the New York Times reported. For example, US officials failed to guarantee access to Mr Chen in hospital, leaving him feeling isolated.
However, Mr Chen himself appears to have become more measured in the past day, after the emotional whirlwind of leaving the safety of the US embassy, meeting his wife and children, and then realising he may not be safe in China under the deal that was brokered by Chinese and American diplomats.
Speaking to Guo Yushan, one of the activists who helped him escape from house arrest, Mr Chen said he did not want asylum in the United States, but merely to be allowed to study for a few months at New York University.
”He feels very sorry for the pressure he brought to US embassy,” wrote Mr Guo on Twitter.
"First, Guangcheng never told the media that he wants to seek political asylum. He only said he wants to rest for several months in the US, and he has the invitation letter of New York University. Since he is a free man, now he wants to tour for sometime in US and then come back.”
”Second, he never criticised the US embassy directly or indirectly for ’forcing’ or ’inducing’ him to leave the embassy, he walked out voluntarily, and appreciates the help from the embassy in the past week.”
Last night, Mr Chen told a US Congressional committee from his hospital bed that he needed to meet with Mrs Clinton before she left China.
"I want to meet with Secretary Clinton. I hope I can get more help from her," he said, as an activist held their mobile to a microphone so his words could be heard by the gathered congressman and senators. "I want to come to the US to rest. I have not had a rest in 10 years".
The self-taught lawyer, who has been blind since childhood, left the protection of the US embassy in Beijing on Wednesday after agreeing a deal to stay in China and be reunited with his wife and two children.
American diplomats pledged they would monitor his safety after leaving him in a Chinese hospital but within hours appeared to have lost control of the situation as Mr Chen announced he wanted to leave for the US.
Yesterday, when Robert Wang, America's second-most senior diplomat in China, tried to visit Mr Chen in hospital he was apparently denied access, prompting concern the Chinese government was trying to cut him off from outside support.
Mrs Clinton, who is in China for two days of international talks, faced calls to do "everything" in her power to get Mr Chen to the US so he can make a claim for political asylum.
Chris Smith, the Republican congressman, who chairs the commission which Mr Chen called, said: "Having been handed over to Chinese officials by American diplomats, Chen, his wife Yuan and the rest of his family and friends appear to be in significant danger."
Mr Chen, 40, who has been persecuted for years by the Chinese government, had taken refuge in the US embassy for six days after escaping from house arrest.
He emerged to gleeful scenes and a reunion with his family after US officials declared they had brokered a deal guaranteeing his safety in China.
However, soon after he arrived at hospital he indicated that he had only left the embassy because of the threat of retribution against his family members.
He told the Daily Telegraph that he had changed his mind on staying in China after learning his wife was held in a police station for two days after his escape and “nearly beaten to death”.
"The Chinese side guaranteed my freedom and my legal rights. But yesterday evening I saw that my phone was being controlled and I heard what had happened to my family and I now feel unsafe. I want to leave China, which is also what the White House had originally advised me to do,” he said
The lawyer also told Melinda Liu, a journalist he has known him for more than a decade, that he wanted a seat on Mrs Clinton’s plane when she flies out of Beijing today [FRIDAY].
Mr Chen’s change of heart has put the Obama administration under intense pressure as what had at first seemed like a diplomatic coup began to unravel.
Speaking at the opening of the summit in Beijing yesterday, Mrs Clinton did not mention Mr Chen’s case, saying only that the US would raise “the importance of human rights and fundamental freedoms”.
Gary Locke, the US ambassador to China, repeatedly refused to say whether the Chen family would be offered asylum in America, insisting: “From day one he said that he wanted to stay in China. He was not interested in going to the United States."
When asked if Mr Chen could leave on Mrs Clinton's plane, the ambassador said: "We are not about to make promises that we cannot keep. "
Even if the US decided to take the gamble it was unclear how Mr Chen could be extracted as his hospital room remained ringed with police and plain-clothes agents.