American diplomats were only too eager to oblige. Photographed with U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke as he departed the security of the embassy, Chen soon enough saw that American promises to ensure his safety were nothing more than a convenient compromise to get him out of the way so as not to jeopardize the Clinton-Geithner mission. The embassy claimed that it had assurances that Chen would be treated and then released and resettled someplace safe, where he could attend law school in China. But the moment Chen checked in to the hospital, the Americans disappeared, in effect abandoning him to Chinese state security officials.
Now Chen has asked to be permitted to leave the country with his family. Of course, China complains that the U.S. has meddled in its internal affairs by even offering the injured Chen humanitarian aid initially. And so far, Clinton has managed little more during her official visit than vague references to China's obligation "to answer to citizens' aspirations for dignity and the rule of law," without ever mentioning Chen by name.
One can only hope that she pressed his case in private meetings. According to news reports, Chen wishes to leave China on Clinton's plane. It is almost unimaginable that an administration as timid as this one would agree to help him do so. The best he and his family can hope for is that backroom talks will continue after Clinton leaves and that those talks eventually lead to China's decision that Chen is a greater danger inside China than he would be if he were to reach freedom in the U.S.
But even Chen's eventual release would not be enough to absolve the Obama administration from its failure to promote human rights as a fundamental element of American foreign policy.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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