Activist Crisis Is US Envoy’s Human Rights Moment
Published: May 6, 2012
Activist Crisis Is US Envoy’s Human Rights Moment, As a former U.S. commerce secretary and governor of Washington state, Gary Locke wasn’t considered much of a heavyweight on human rights when he became the first Chinese-American ambassador to Beijing last year. Trade and maintaining smooth relations between Washington and its biggest foreign creditor were seen as dominating his agenda.
Yet, nine months on, Locke’s key role in the recent drama over blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng has put him on the front lines of U.S. concerns about China’s embattled dissident community. Chen’s sudden escape from house arrest and a U.S. decision to give him sanctuary in the U.S. Embassy gave Locke his first crisis as ambassador, made him a target of criticism from Beijing and earned him respect from the human rights lobby.
“He is setting a new precedent for future U.S. ambassadors” on human rights, said Bob Fu of the Texas-based rights group ChinaAid, who has been in close contact with Chen and the Obama administration over the case.
Chen’s fate remains unresolved. Still-evolving arrangements between Washington and Beijing may result in Chen and his family ultimately leaving China for the United States.
On Sunday, Chen, his wife and two children were still inside a Beijing hospital where he is receiving treatment for injuries suffered during his bold escape two weeks ago from his rural farmhouse. U.S. officials spoke by phone to Chen and his wife at the hospital, a U.S. Embassy spokesman said.
Chen had been under illegal house arrest along with his family for 20 months at their rural home, following his release from a four-year prison term imposed after he angered local officials by revealing abuses by family planning officials, including forced abortions.
After traveling to Beijing with the help of rights advocates, Chen contacted the embassy, and Locke sent a car to pick him up. During Chen’s anxious six days inside, Locke said he spent up to five hours a day with him, trying to reassure him. After Chen initially decided to remain in China and be reunited with his family at a Beijing hospital, Locke accompanied him and was photographed holding his hand as they entered the hospital. (AP)
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