Chen Guangcheng, Round Three

The news has slowed now that it’s night in China, but people are still trying to piece together exactly what happened today. From a Times story:

In unprecedented diplomatic negotiations with the Chinese starting Monday, Cohen and his colleagues laid out Chen’s options. He could leave and seek asylum in the U.S. while his wife and daughter would likely remain under house arrest in Shandong, or he could choose to stay in China. If he chose the latter, U.S. negotiators would seek assurances from the Chinese government that Chen and his family would not return to the abusive circumstances under which they lived for the last seven years. Cohen advocated a middle path to Chen, based on a deal forged by Chinese activist Ai Weiwei, with whom Cohen has also worked. Chinese officials released Ai from detention last June after 81 days and allowed him to travel freely within Beijing; he recently gave a Skype speech to hundreds of supporters. “Though this solution has caused some problems for the government, they have tolerated it because they know it’s better than the international condemnation of locking him up. Ai is showing a kind of path we are trying hard to create, a space between prison and total freedom,” Cohen told reporters on a call sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations. “That’s a kind of precedent I’ve talked to Chen about.”

Chinese negotiators offered to allow Chen to study law – a long-standing request – at one of seven universities that also have blind institutions – none in Beijing or Shanghai, though two in nearby cities. He would be treated as any other law student, they said, and his family could live with him. His wife, who also has an avid interest in law, reads aloud to Chen. “What restrictions he’ll be under in terms of talking to friends, making public statements, writing an opinion on one legal ruling or another remains to be seen,” Cohen said.

By Tuesday, Chen was feeling better about the arrangement and by the time he left the embassy he was comfortable with it, Cohen said.

The reports that Chen now feels coerced took many U.S. officials by surprise. Cohen said that while Chen never told him that anyone threatened his wife, Cohen heard from a friend of Chen’s wife on Wednesday morning that local authorities in Shandong had threatened to beat her to death if her husband left the country. Chen told the AP he heard this threat from U.S. officials, but U.S. officials say they had no knowledge of that threat and did not relay it to Chen. “What could’ve happened when he got to the hospital and met his family his wife told him what had happened and that might have made him regret thedecision,” Cohen said. “He may be very susceptible. Here’s a man who’s had a very skewed perspective, living under a lot of abuse for many years.”

And from Tom Lasseter:

A close friend said in a series of online Twitter postings that Chen, blind since childhood, contacted her and said he’d abandoned the U.S. embassy out of fear for his wife’s safety. Chen had been willing to leave China if his family could’ve accompanied him, wrote Zeng Jinyan.

Zeng was not reachable by phone on Wednesday evening, though her husband, who was traveling, said he’d spoken with her and confirmed the conversation took place.

“The (Chinese) authorities brought his wife to Beijing and said that he must leave (the embassy), so Guangcheng was forced to leave,” said Hu Jia, also a Chen confidant.

Asked about Beijing’s assurance of wellbeing for Chen, Teng replied: “I have no trust in it.”

After news of Chen’s departure from the U.S. Embassy became public, the Chinese state Xinhua newswire on Wednesday said its government was demanding an apology from the Americans. It quoted Foreign Ministry Spokesman Liu Weiman as saying that, “What the U.S. side has done has interfered in the domestic affairs of China, and the Chinese side will never accept it.”

Many were dubious of the arrangement from the start.

“There is good reason for skepticism about whether the Chinese government is both willing and able to deliver on the conditional release of Chen Guangcheng from US diplomatic protection to a ‘safe’ location in China, particularly since neither side has identified that location or defined how it will be safe for Chen and his family,” Phelim Kine, senior Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch, said not long after the deal got announced.

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