“Behind Twists of Diplomacy in the Case of a Chinese Dissident”

The NYT seems to have cleared up some of the mysteries that arose during the first few days after Chen arrived in Beijing, in one of the most definitive accounts to have reached the press thus far:

“I don’t want to talk to him anymore,” Cui Tiankai, the vice foreign minister, erupted after Mrs. Clinton intervened, gesturing toward Kurt M. Campbell, an assistant secretary of state and a crucial negotiator.

The confrontation was a pivotal moment in a diplomatic drama replete with unanticipated twists, threats and counterthreats, and at times comical intrigue. Mr. Campbell, for example, took to sneaking out of his hotel in Beijing through an entrance by the garbage bins to avoid public attention.

The Chinese security apparatus, meanwhile, aggressively tapped and blocked phone calls by embassy officials, with an agent at one point brazenly dialing into a conversation between Mr. Chen and his wife on the cellphone of the deputy chief of mission, Robert S. Wang. The Americans, fearing that the Chinese would restrict access to Mr. Chen’s hospital, even considered disguising an employee as a nurse to gain entry.

Mr. Chen’s case highlighted what the Americans view as an intensifying struggle within the Chinese leadership between hard-liners and reformers. At one point during the talks, the State Department’s legal adviser, Harold H. Koh, encountered officials from China’s powerful Ministry of State Security arguing in the hallway with their counterparts from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, saying Mr. Chen should be punished, not coddled by the Americans.

Even so, the officials said they knew nothing of his preparations to escape from his farmhouse on the night of April 22.

They learned of it only when a rights advocate called the embassy three days later and told officials there that he was in hiding on the outskirts of Beijing, his foot broken from a fall during the escape.

After a late-night meeting at the State Department on April 25, Mrs. Clinton approved a plan to spirit him into the embassy, an operation that involved hustling him from one car to another twice.

The scene at the hospital quickly became confused. The Chinese did not object to allowing an American diplomat to stay overnight, contrary to reports that prompted the criticism. As with much of the story, the moment turned less on geopolitics than on human relations. The diplomat, in fact, left because he believed that Mr. Chen wanted privacy with his wife.

Thursday was chaotic, as reports that the agreement had fallen apart led Republican critics to castigate the administration. At the hospital, Mr. Chen underwent lengthy examinations, preventing the Americans from contacting him directly. Doctors found that he was suffering not from cancer, but from colitis.

In her meeting with Mr. Dai, the foreign policy official, on Friday, Mrs. Clinton never explicitly asked for anything. She made it clear, however, that she would have to speak about Mr. Chen when she appeared before the press. The subtlety worked: within hours, the Chinese released a statement that Mr. Chen could travel to study abroad like any citizen, and the State Department announced that it would expedite any request for a visa.


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