A Reminder That It Will Be a While Before We Fully Understand the Chen Case

Headline from Keith Richburg and William Wan in the Washington Post just now, based on a phone call from Chen Guangcheng:


The story says:
In a telephone interview early Friday, Chen said he does not blame American officials for his plight after leaving the U.S. Embassy under a deal they helped strike. But he accused Chinese officials of reneging on their promises to fully restore his freedom.

This is worth bearing in mind as a counter to earlier, conclusive-sounding reports and politicized complaints that the United States had coldly sold out an idealistic, blind activist. These include Mitt Romney's claim that this is a "day of shame" for the administration.

This is a sad situation all around -- most of all for Chen and his family. As noted earlier, in fact neither the United States nor any other foreign country can control what the Chinese government does with its own citizens when they are on Chinese soil. Once he reached the embassy, Chen himself faced two bad alternatives: leaving the country, which he didn't want to do, or staying, with no enforceable way to ensure better treatment from authorities.

There is more to know about this case, and only harm to be done by politicizing it, rushing to judgments, or making this into a Chinese-U.S. showdown. That is guaranteed to hurt the people it is supposedly meant to protect, starting with the wholly admirable Chen Guangcheng.

[PS Also see posts by Helen Gao and Brian Glucroft.]

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

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