Bloomberg News

Clinton Says Ties With China Made Deal on Activist Easier

May 09, 2012

Chen Guangcheng, second from left, meets with Harold Koh, U.S. State Department legal adviser, left, and Gary Locke, U.S. Ambassador to China, second from right, in Beijing on May 2, 2012. Source: U.S. Embassy Beijing Press Office via Bloomberg

Chen Guangcheng, second from left, meets with Harold Koh, U.S. State Department legal adviser, left, and Gary Locke, U.S. Ambassador to China, second from right, in Beijing on May 2, 2012. Source: U.S. Embassy Beijing Press Office via Bloomberg

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the benefits of expanded U.S.-China contacts were demonstrated in working out a deal on activist Chen Guangcheng and averting a crisis capable of damaging relations.

Clinton, in an interview yesterday in New Delhi, said that the work she and others have done to establish multiple channels for dialogue over the last 3 1/2 years “created a level of personal relationships and understandings between individuals and our government institutions that is absolutely critical.”

Clinton suggested that China’s willingness to agree to a U.S. proposal to assist a prominent critic of the government’s one-child policy is an indication that taking a broader view of the relationship pays dividends in a moment of crisis.

“I’ve invested a lot and argued strongly” for keeping regular channels of communication open so that no one issue “predominates or undermines the potential for reaching agreement on other equally important issues,” the top U.S. diplomat told Bloomberg Radio.

Chen, a blind self-taught lawyer who was imprisoned and later kept under extrajudicial house arrest in Shandong province after helping villagers protest forced abortions and sterilizations, remains in a Beijing hospital, where U.S. officials are in “close contact” with him, Clinton said.

“He’s continuing to receive medical treatment,” U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said at a briefing yesterday, adding that the U.S. has its “ducks in a row” to process his case.

Chen is “meeting with Chinese authorities to pursue the necessary steps to be able to leave” to study at New York University, Clinton said. “We’re also, on our end, expediting and making the necessary preparations. My goal is to welcome him to the United States.”

Highly Unusual Step

After Chen evaded security guards around his home and made contact with U.S. officials in Beijing, Clinton authorized diplomats to take the highly unusual step of picking up the injured activist and bringing him to safety in the embassy. The American diplomats sent to fetch him were chased and almost aborted their mission, U.S. officials said.

Asked if she feared her decision might spur a run on U.S. embassies by dissidents in China and elsewhere, Clinton called Chen’s case an “exceptional” one under “extraordinary circumstances, and I do not anticipate seeing any case like this again.”

The activist’s appeal to the U.S. for help during Clinton’s visit to Beijing for high-level talks last week triggered a diplomatic crisis that shined a spotlight on human rights violations in China and threatened to derail China’s annual dialogue with Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

Second Deal

An initial deal with Chinese authorities reached the night Clinton arrived would have allowed Chen to reunite with his family and live freely in China to study law. That agreement collapsed when he changed his mind hours after leaving the U.S. embassy for the hospital on May 2. In Washington, Republican critics accused the Obama administration of not doing enough to protect Chen and being naive to trust China’s promises.

Clinton weighed in on the around-the-clock negotiations on the sidelines of the yearly Strategic and Economic Dialogue, and a second deal was crafted two days later. China said Chen and his family could apply for passports to enable him to accept a fellowship from New York University.

China’s Foreign Ministry said Chen, who was imprisoned for four years, had the right to apply for travel documents like any other citizen. Chen had been held under house arrest in the village of Dongshigu for more than a year after his release from prison. Local officials had walls erected around his home, and plainclothes guards prevented people from visiting him, sometimes beating them up, during that time.

‘Working Very Hard’

Clinton declined to predict how long it would take for Chen to be able to leave China, saying only that both sides are “working very hard. There are a lot of people engaged in both the Chinese and the American governments.”

While China’s official Xinhua news agency denounced the U.S. involvement in the Chen case before the final deal was crafted, the response from Chinese authorities was more muted than it had been in previous crises.

After a Chinese jet fighter collided with a U.S. Navy spy plane off the coast of China on April 1, 2001, Beijing’s leadership allowed the downed American plane’s crew to return only after then-ambassador to China Joseph Prueher delivered a letter saying the U.S. was “very sorry” for the Chinese pilot’s death.

Declining to comment on how the U.S. managed to craft a deal this time in a sensitive case involving a Chinese activist, Clinton said that “every high-level Chinese official that I met” last week “repeated back to me” words from a speech she delivered in Washington reflecting on Sino-U.S. relations in the 40 years since President Richard Nixon’s historic outreach to communist China.

Chinese officials, she said, echoed her view that “what we are trying to do -- the U.S. and China -- is unprecedented in world history. We’re trying to find a way for an established power and a rising power to coexist.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Indira A.R. Lakshmanan in New Delhi at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at

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