Skip to main content

Hillary Clinton must visit Chen Guangcheng

By Bei Ling, Special to CNN
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Thu May 3, 2012
Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng appears Wednesday at a Beijing hospital, where he is receiving care for an injured foot.
Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng appears Wednesday at a Beijing hospital, where he is receiving care for an injured foot.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng and his family once again fear for their safety
  • Bei Ling: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton must visit and talk to Chen in person
  • Ling says U.S. Embassy should regularly visit Chen and his family to ensure they are safe
  • Ling: Case is a test for Clinton as the guardian of American values of human rights and freedom

Editor's note: Bei Ling, an exiled Chinese poet and essayist, is the founder and executive director of Independent Chinese PEN Center.

(CNN) -- On Wednesday night, Chen Guangcheng's cell phone stopped working. The only means that the blind Chinese human rights lawyer, his wife, Yuan Weijing, and their two children had of connecting with those outside Beijing Chaoyang Hospital was cut off.

This was less than 12 hours after Chen left the U.S. Embassy in Beijing accompanied by U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke, Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell and other diplomats on his way to the hospital.

Activist says he wants to go to U.S.

According to Chen's lawyer, Teng Biao, it wasn't until 8:45 p.m., after an official from the U.S. Embassy called the hospital asking that a meal be delivered, that Chen and his family were able to have dinner. The meal should have been delivered to the ward much earlier.

Bei Ling
Bei Ling

What is even more worrisome is that Chen's cell phone was disconnected after he called the U.S. Embassy for help at 10 p.m. and no one answered.

One thing is certain: Chen and his family once again fear for their safety.

CNN Transcript: Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng

Chen says he wants to leave China
Dissident crisis overshadows trade talks
China censors information about Chen
Chinese dissident fears for his life

I won't comment on whether Chen left the U.S. Embassy in Beijing of his own volition. When he's free, he can address this question himself. There will also be no shortage of evaluation of the U.S. government's decision, including its conflicting priorities of defending human rights and advancing national interests.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter and Facebook.com/cnnopinion.

But as a father and husband, if Chen could not be with his wife and children and protect them, he certainly couldn't be expected to choose to stay in the U.S. Embassy or flee to the United States as a political refugee.

So the question is: Will Chen get any real freedom now?

Perhaps the situation will not be like his home in Shandong province where Chen's personal safety was in permanent jeopardy. But surveillance, wiretapping and random threats will follow him everywhere like a shadow. Thugs hired at 100 yuan a day by the local government will be replaced by state-level public security officers fully equipped with high-tech monitoring cameras and recorders. Just because the Chinese government made oral and written promises regarding the future of Chen and his family does not mean that they will be able to live a life free of watchful eyes.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said: "Mr. Chen has a number of understandings with the Chinese government about his future, including the opportunity to pursue higher education in a safe environment. Making these commitments a reality is the next crucial task. 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."

Regardless of how busy Clinton is with high-level meetings during her time in Beijing, the well-being of Chen and his family must be a priority.

A mere telephone conversation isn't enough. What Chen expressed in his broken English, "I want to see you," should not be misconstrued as "I want to kiss you." Clinton must visit him, his wife and children as early as possible. And during the visit, she must reiterate the promise to Chen and the international community that "the United States government and the American people are committed to remaining engaged with Mr. Chen and his family."

She should tell Chen in person that the American government is committed to the safety of him and his family in China, and that they should have the freedom of movement -- the most important freedom to him -- and freedom to express opinions publicly. To that end, they should have telephone and Internet access, and unblocked communication with the outside world.

Regardless of where Chen goes in China in the coming days, weeks and years, the U.S. Embassy should regularly visit him and his family to ensure that they are indeed safe and free. At the very least, the American government should feel responsible for Chen.

This is a serious test for Clinton in her role as secretary of state and as guardian of American values of human rights and freedom.

This essay was translated from Chinese by Scott Savitt.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Bei Ling.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
updated 6:48 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
updated 4:49 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
updated 7:03 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
updated 10:19 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
updated 2:59 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
updated 9:32 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
updated 8:33 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
updated 5:37 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
updated 12:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
updated 10:39 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
updated 5:10 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT