Wednesday, 19 June 2013

In with the Wrong Crowd

Is blind activist Chen Guangcheng being manipulated by right-wing groups?
A year flies by and so it has for Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng.

After his dramatic escape from rural Shandong to the US Embassy in Beijing that nearly derailed then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's China visit, Chen has lived in New York for a year, learning as much as he can about American law and legal institutions.

He was promised a year's stay in New York University and now it's come to an end.

Either Chen has forgotten the terms of the agreement of his one-year fellowship at NYU or he has become swept up in living in the Big Apple.

He claimed the school was kicking him out due to "unrelenting pressure" from the Chinese government, as NYU is preparing to open its Shanghai campus at East China Normal University.

"As early as last August and September, the Chinese Communists had already begun to apply great, unrelenting pressure on New York University," Chen said in a statement. "The work of the Chinese Communists within academic circles in the United States is far greater than what people imagine."

This was disputed by the school and his mentor, Professor Jerome Cohen, who helped negotiate Chen and his family's arrival to New York in the first place.

Cohen was in China when this latest fracas erupted and was unable to immediately defend the school and ask Chen what was going on.

"Mr. Chen seems to be taking advice from a group that thrives on accusation, rumour, suspicion, gossip and malice," Cohen said in an email. "So far not a single fact has been adduced to support their allegations" about NYU.

While Cohen did not name the group supposedly advising Chen, it is believed they are right-wing groups who align with his anti-abortion stance, thanks to Chinese American activist Bob Fu, that are either instructing Chen or encouraging him to make statements that have yet to be substantiated.

It should be noted that Chen's statement was released by Mark Corallo, a Republican crisis-communications strategist who previously worked for Karl Rove and John Ashcroft. Need we say more?

Chen's plight one year after leaving China illustrates the challenges dissidents face when they go into exile.

At first they are overwhelmed by the immense freedom they have in places like the US, and then they must overcome the culture shock of living in another country, let alone learn another language.

Then it's about figuring out the next step -- do they drop their cause and find another career, or do they try to find another way to keep their relevance not only in the media, but also outside of China. Tiananmen leader Chai Ling seems to have done well in the former category, while Wang Dan the latter.

Not everyone can accomplish this tricky balance, let alone do this well and it seems Chen is still finding his way. It's only been a year and he has been busy making lots of speeches, but if he did think he could stay longer at NYU, he is naive.

One also wonders what kind of advice he'd been given, particularly by Cohen who is a China legal expert, and if Chen accepted the octogenarian's wise counsel.

Right now it looks like Chen has turned his back on Cohen, and we surely hope this is not the case; otherwise he looks like an ungrateful person who has squandered a precious year away...

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