Opinion Brief

The Chen Guangcheng deal: Who won?

The blind activist leaves the U.S. Embassy after Chinese officials assure his safety, but the agreement to return Chen to his normal life seems to be unraveling

Blind activist Chen Guangcheng has had a "change of heart," U.S. diplomats said Thursday. Chen now reportedly wants to leave China with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who's on a high-level visit until Saturday, despite a U.S.-brokered deal in which the Chinese government guaranteed he wouldn't be mistreated. Chen, a rural, self-taught lawyer, had been held under de facto house arrest by local officials, but escaped to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing last week. He left to be reunited with his family and seek treatment in a hospital on Wednesday after receiving assurances that he would be able to move to a new province, free from persecution. Was the deal a victory for Chen, or for China?

China fooled the U.S.: Once Chen had left the embassy and returned to the custody of Chinese officials, says Peter Goodspeed at Canada's National Post, it began to appear the U.S. had been duped. The Chinese government refused to "acknowledge the existence of any understanding" at all, and insisted that it had given no public guarantee of Chen's safety. Chen's escape made him a hero; this so-called deal might have made him a "political martyr.""Activists fear U.S. may have been duped in deal to hand Chen Guangcheng over to China"

Actually, this was a victory for human rights: Second thoughts or not, the agreement that led Chen to leave the embassy's protection was "unprecedentedly positive," Douglas Paal, a top China analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, tells CNN. "Here's a guy who was being harassed extralegally by thugs," and the Chinese government has made "an international promise" to put a stop to it. Given China's record on human rights, that's "spectacular.""Chen deal called a 'very big moment' for China"

It's too early to declare a winner: This could have been a "home run" for everybody, says Elizabeth C. Economy at the Council on Foreign Relations. Chen was to resume his work free from persecution; the U.S. was striking a blow for human rights; and China was saving face because Chen was choosing not to leave. Now Chen says he only left the embassy for fear his wife would be killed, China is backtracking, and the deal is in doubt. "Too much uncertainty remains" to assume there will be any winners at all."A home run for Chen Guangcheng, the United States, and China too...maybe"

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