Tuesday, May 8, 2012


The saga of the blind activist Chen Guangcheng in China would be a comedy of errors if it were not so serious. All the players in this political (melo-) drama seem to have forgotten their lines. Chinese, Americans, and Mr. Chen himself seem to have been embroiled in an absurd fable wherein everybody looks like having been duped. All this was a major distraction from the Strategic and Economic Dialogue with China which mobilized the “who is who” on both sides. It is impossible to guess what the agreement was, if there was one. The Chinese lost face (a major drama), the Americans looked foolish and Mr. Chen appeared sometimes as being a manipulator. The official narrative looked surreal, given what was happening behind the usual official smiles and protocol. The American ambassador looked more like a nanny than a diplomat and every place Mr. Chen went became an asylum for the insane and thugs. As ambassador in Beijing I have seen enough of those seedy characters who run the show. The regime looked bad, almost a remake of post-Weimar Germany. The Americans tried to triangulate self-interest and human rights. This was an inglorious week, obliging the Chinese to show their worst side, inciting the Americans to stick to Realpolitik, which is not always that moralistic. It is to be hoped that this unsavory episode can be forgotten and that Mr. Chen and his family might come to the United States. There has been enough cynicism this week to fill a book where almost everybody looks opportunistic or worse. The secretary of state might have played the better role but only the future will confirm. The part played by Gary Locke, American ambassador, remains unclear even as his intentions were obviously good. The American side vowed not to expect a repeat of this incident. Human rights seem really to be a precious metal a la carte! American diplomatic missions seem to have their hands full in China lately. The surreal has become the norm, given the number of Chinese activists who helped Mr. Chen and have already been routed by the police. Maybe the Americans should start preparing proper lodgings for the Bo Xilais and Ai Weiwei since they are at it. We are only witnessing the U-turns of this Chinese-American “new-look” relationship. Too bad that rather than steadily progressing it goes sometimes into rear gear. After all, Tiananmen still shows the scars of 20 years ago, like some political Pompeii. The blind have to stop leading the blind.

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