Skip to main content

Hillary Clinton must visit Chen Guangcheng

By Bei Ling, Special to CNN
May 3, 2012 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
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
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 2129 GMT (0529 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1754 GMT (0154 HKT)
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
April 13, 2014 -- Updated 1856 GMT (0256 HKT)
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1522 GMT (2322 HKT)
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1906 GMT (0306 HKT)
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1649 GMT (0049 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1416 GMT (2216 HKT)
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
April 12, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1731 GMT (0131 HKT)
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 2128 GMT (0528 HKT)
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1522 GMT (2322 HKT)
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1632 GMT (0032 HKT)
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
Simon Tisdall: Has John Kerry's recent track record left Russia's wily leader ever more convinced of U.S. weakness?
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1640 GMT (0040 HKT)
Mel Robbins says Nate Scimio deserves credit for acting bravely in a frightening attack and shouldn't be criticized for posting a selfie afterward
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1839 GMT (0239 HKT)
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Dr. Mary Mulcahy says doctors who tell their patients the truth risk getting bad ratings from them
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1328 GMT (2128 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says the married Rep. McAllister, caught on video making out with a staffer, won't get a pass from voters who elected him as a Christian conservative with family values
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1143 GMT (1943 HKT)
David Frum says the president has failed to react strongly to crises in Iran, Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela, encouraging others to act out
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 2057 GMT (0457 HKT)
Eric Liu says Paul Ryan gets it very wrong: The U.S.'s problem is not a culture of poverty, it is a culture of wealth that is destroying the American value linking work and reward
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1151 GMT (1951 HKT)
Frida Ghitis writes: "We are still seeing the world mostly through men's eyes. We are still hearing it explained to us mostly by men."
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Chester Wisniewski says the Heartbleed bug shows how we're all tangled together, relying on each other for Internet security
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1926 GMT (0326 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says an Ohio school that suspended a little kid for pointing his finger at another kid and pretending to shoot shows the growth in "zero tolerance" policies at school run amok
ADVERTISEMENT