Hillary Clinton has an unusual parting gift.
Madame Secretary of State is in Beijing for high-level trade and strategy talks with counterparts in China. The week before her arrival blind human rights activist Chen Guangcheng fled house arrest and traveled across the country to seek shelter in the US Embassy in Beijing. He came six days before Hillary arrived.
Chen was reported as saying he wanted to kiss Hillary Clinton. Chalk that up to another case of poor translation. He said he wanted to meet her.
On her day of arrival in Beijing, Chen was escorted from the US Embassy to a local hospital for medical treatment. Accompanying him was US Ambassador Gary Locke. At the time Chen said he wanted to stay in China with his family.
That was then.
Since departing the US Embassy, Chen claims he was coerced. US officials purportedly said Cheng’s family would be returned to Shandong province and beaten.
Also at the time he was lauded by human rights activists for choosing to remain in China. The US Government said it would monitor his condition. China denounced America for meddling.
This is now.
On Thursday Chen asked US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to take him with her. She departs China tomorrow. He fears for the safety of his family. Now the world is watching. How can Hillary Clinton leave China without Chen Guangcheng?
These activities are overshadowing the broader US-China talks at a crucial time. Both countries are preparing for changes in government. In November Barack Obama faces re-election, and while he is quietly confident he still faces an uphill campaign.
The 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China will be convened in autumn. At that a new President will be appointed. All signs are this will be Xi Jinping. The new Premier is poised to be Li Keqiang. China is trying to ensure a smooth transition, yet the recent cases of Bo Xilai and Cheng Guangcheng make that difficult.
In the meantime Hillary Clinton says she will not serve a second term as US Secretary of State. This visit is one of her most high-profile. Coming at the end of her career, potentially, it is important she leave on a high. Not with an activist in her carry-on baggage.
How this gets resolved will play a major role in US-China relations.
In Hong Kong there’s a joke circulating in the local community. Chen was accompanied to the hospital and was told American officials would stay by his side. Apparently after checking him in they all fled, knowing the couldn’t see them. Problem is Chen can still hear.
“大使先生是你還在這裡嗎? Mr Ambassador are you still here?”