Global Ethics Corner: What Does Chen Guangcheng's Arrival in the U.S. Mean for Human Rights in China?

May 25, 2012

With Chen Guangcheng now in the United States on a student visa, a diplomatic nightmare has been averted for the Obama administration. But this compromise has left some human rights advocates disappointed. What effect, if any, will Chen's arrival have on human rights in China?

The Obama administration breathed a collective sigh of relief recently when Chinese human rights activist Chen Guangcheng arrived in New York. His escape from house arrest and refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing sparked a diplomatic nightmare for the U.S.

For years, Chen has been one of China's most vocal champions for human rights. He first reached international prominence in 2005, when he sued the city of Linyi for excessive enforcement of China's one-child policy, which he says resulted in forced abortions.

Chinese authorities did not greet Chen's lawsuit warmly, imprisoning Chen that same year. Eventually, he was put on house arrest. That's where many expected he would remain, until his escape landed him in U.S. custody.

Chen's April escape created a moral dilemma for the U.S. On the one hand, the country could rally around Chen's cause. That would draw attention to China's human rights record but could imperil U.S.-China trade relations. Or, the U.S. could ignore Chen's plight and effectively place economic interests before human rights.

Ultimately, the Obama administration chose a middle ground by inviting Chen to the U.S. on a student visa. This way, the administration avoided angering China unduly, without abandoning Chen. Chen's advisors say he is happy with the outcome for now, and plans to return to China in the long run. But while the move may have been good politics, critics say it was bad for human rights.

Critics warn that Chen's move to the U.S. will worsen China's deteriorating human rights record. While he may find an eager American audience, it will be much more difficult for Chen to reach Chinese audiences back home. Ultimately, this means that the victory may be Beijing's, not Obama's.

What do you think? Will Chen's arrival in America help or hinder human rights in China?

By Marlene Spoerri

Photo Credits in order of Appearance:
Pete Souza/White House [also for pictures 7, 9, & 10]
U.S. Department of State [also for pictures 3, 11, & 15]
U. Dettmar/ABr
Ted Lippien
Jim O'Donnell
Michael Lieu
Samantha Appleton/White House

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