The latest twist in the Chen drama: the US and China have announced a set of new agreements and steps under which the blind “barefoot lawyer” and his family will be free to come to the United States. As the FT reports,
“Assuming this new deal stands, this has been, on balance, a good week for the US, for the Obama administration and for US-China relations,” said Ken Lieberthal, a former national security council official now at the Brookings Institution in Washington. The fact that the US and China had negotiated two agreements over a sensitive human rights case in the space of a week, while also conducting the summit shows that the two governments “can walk and chew gum at the same time”.
Correct; it is also a victory for human decency and common sense — and a sign that the modernizers are, if anything, tightening their grip in China. The possibility is now open for significant progress on a range of issues. Just as modernizers in Japan once sought to reach trade agreements with the US as a way of forcing change in Japan’s corporate culture, so now there are many in China who see international agreements as a way to speed up economic modernization inside the country.There are still a few ways this could go wrong. One wrinkle is that technically Chen must return to his home province to apply for a new passport. That would probably not be a good idea. But the outlines of a solution now seem to be clear, and both the US and Chinese governments are signalling agreement. It won’t be over until Chen’s plane lands in the US, but resourceful diplomacy and good will on both sides appears to have defused what could have been a major problem.Every now and then, the optimists are right.