More on the detained Chinese lawyer

Not being on-scene in Beijing, I don't have fresh info myself. But as a reference for anyone wanting to follow the case of Xu Zhiyong, the Chinese civil-rights lawyer who was taken from his home at 5am last week and has not been heard from since, here are some relevant sites:

Xu in 2004, in a photo from the China Media Project in Hong Kong.

- China Digital Times summary of the event and coverage;
- CDT on the recent crackdown on other legal-aid groups;
- Evan Osnos dispatch for the New Yorker on "Where is Xu Zhiyong?"
- The Chinese Media Project story;
- Xu's personal blog, in Chinese;
- Blog account in Chinese of tax charges against Xu and his response;
- English version of similar response;
- English account by one of Xu's colleagues, Teng Biao, of his own "kidnapping" by the police.

Check those sites for updates. The minor point that comes through these accounts is the excuse for the arrest of Xu. His legal-defense center, the Open Constitution Initiative, had been receiving support and grants from Yale Law School -- one of many instances of Western legal groups working to expand the rule of law in China. The authorities have found a way to declare that this support was improperly reported for tax purposes.

The major point that comes through is that Xu and his colleagues are the farthest thing from overthrow-the-system radical subversives. On the contrary: he files suit in Chinese courts, he bases his claims for protection on the Chinese constitution, and he has even been a successful candidate in a local election. (China has elections at the local level.) He is what real radicals would dismiss as a "liberal" and "inside-the-system reformer," but now his and similar efforts are beyond the pale.

Over the 20 years since Tiananmen Square, and certainly during the three years I could observe first-hand there, rule of law and civil liberties made a steady if uneven expansion in China. This and related recent crackdowns are a setback, whose significance we can judge depending on what happens next.

Consistent with the policy that the US should view China as a partner and friend in the many areas where collaboration is necessary and fruitful, but should speak up for its own values when they differ from Chinese government practice, US officials should say that they are watching this case. Not interfering in Chinese affairs, not telling the Chinese government what to do -- but watching, to see how the government respects its own citizens' rights.