A Car Chase, Secret Talks and Second Thoughts (Updated)

The New York Times talks to the people who helped or encountered Chen Guangcheng during his escape from defacto house arrest in Dongshigu, Shandong Province, his journey to Beijing, and his stay in the U.S. Embassy, to provide a detailed chronology of events:

As part of the plan, Mr. Chen feigned sickness for weeks, tricking his minders into thinking he was bedridden. Then, on a moonless night on April 22, he began his mad dash from Dongshigu village, heaving himself over the first of several walls while the guards slept. It was during the first few minutes of his scramble that Mr. Chen severely injured his foot. In all, he told friends he fell 200 times as he made his made his way to a predetermined pickup point.

Once there, he slid a battery into the cellphone he had in his pocket and called He Peirong, a former English teacher from the distant city of Nanjing. Ms. He was part of a loose network of freelance rights advocates who had been trying to draw attention to his plight for more than a year. She had tried in previous months to visit Mr. Chen and his wife several times. Each attempt was repelled by the guards at Dongshigu’s entry points. Sometimes they beat her, and on one occasion the men robbed her of her money and cellphone and then dumped her in a faraway field.

Civil disobedience, she had told friends, was having little impact.

With Mr. Chen in her car, a decision had to be made: try to surreptitiously leave the country through the help of Christian activists, or stay in an attempt to establish an independent life within China. “Chen made it clear that he had no interest in becoming an exile,” said Bob Fu, an exiled Chinese dissident whose organization, ChinaAid, has helped others make the overland escape. “He wanted to stay in China and try to make things better.”

Meanwhile, while supporters remain “cautiously optimistic” that Chen will be allowed to travel to the U.S. with his family to further his studies, as he has said he now wants to do, U.S. officials continued to talk with his family members and Chinese officials over the weekend in an effort to resolve the case. From Reuters:

The U.S. Embassy said on Sunday U.S. officers had visited Chen’s wife on Saturday at the hospital, and remained in contact with the family and with Chinese officials dealing with the case. The embassy declined to elaborate on any negotiations.

Human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong, who said he was recovering from ear injuries after security agents struck him following an attempt to visit the hospital, told Reuters he had spoken to Chen on Saturday afternoon.

“We mostly discussed his health and his situation. He is feeling optimistic,” said Jiang, who is barred from leaving his apartment.

Jiang said Chen had told him Chinese leaders had contacted him about his case. Jiang did not say which leaders.

An outcome that is agreed upon by all sides and ensures the safety of Chen and his family will go a long way toward smoothing out U.S.-China relations. From the Wall Street Journal:

“In the last 40 years, China-U.S. relations have been through ups and downs, but always moved forwards,” Gen. Liang said in a speech on his arrival in San Francisco, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency. “China and the U.S. are not competing rivals in a zero-sum game, but partners with mutual benefits, whose common interests far outweigh their differences.”

Whereas previous confrontations over sensitive issues have often disrupted bilateral dialogue—especially in the military sphere—and prompted sustained public criticism of the U.S. in China, the Chinese Foreign Ministry and state media remained pointedly silent on the Chen saga Sunday.

Orville Schell, director of the Arthur Ross Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society in New York, said the Chen case speaks to a “new kind of maturity” in the ability of the U.S. and China to resolve problems. “The two sides did actually work this out in a mature, hard-nosed way with a minimum of rhetoric and blame,” he said, adding that both China and the U.S. realized “they were stuck with a common problem and both had an interest in dealing with it.”

He Peirong, who played a key role in assisting Chen in his escape and supporting him while he was under house arrest, was detained and questioned for several days before returning to her home in Nanjing. She recently tweeted:

[Chen Guangcheng is free; my work is done. I believe Chen Guangcheng can make an independent judgement to arrange the future for himself and his family. I do not have any comment and I don't want to influence the development and outcome of his plans. I hope everyone can understand. I support whatever decision he makes and wish him the best.]

Meanwhile, Richard Buangan, the Press Secretary of the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, mysteriously tweeted on Sunday morning:

[Rough translation: I'm living in the real world; I'm just doing what I have to do.]

Update: The Independent has interviewed He Peirong about her work supporting Chen during his house arrest and later during the escape:

After Mr Chen surfaced at the US embassy days later, it was the details of this escape that security officers sought when they came calling at Ms He’s home in Nanjing.

Refusing to cooperate, she was detained on 25 April interrogated by police for a week before she was allowed to return home.

“The police wanted to know how Chen escaped from his home, and who helped him escape,” Ms He told The Independent. “But I refused to answer some of the questions.”

Though Ms He says she was treated well during her time in detention, and was “allowed to have food and sleep normally during the seven days”, she continues to face calls to reveal the details of Mr Chen’s escape.

Read more about Chen Guangcheng via CDT.

May 6, 2012 2:24 PM
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