Chen Guangcheng is not the first Chinese dissident to seek refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. As Andrew Higgins reports in ‘Dissident drama recalls story of Fang Lizhi’:
‘…in the summer of 1989 when Fang Lizhi, a dissident Chinese astrophysicist, entered the U.S. mission in Beijing a day after the June 4 Tiananmen Square massacre and asked diplomats there for protection.’
To find out more about Dr. Fang, please see ‘On Fang Lizhi (1936-2012)’ By Perry Link and ‘Fang Lizhi, Chinese Physicist and Seminal Dissident, Dies at 76′.
Now back his stay in the U.S. Embassy:
Fang, with his wife, then spent nearly 13 months holed up in a windowless room that had previously served as an embassy clinic while senior U.S. officials and others, including former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, trooped to Beijing to beg Chinese leaders to let the dissident leave China unmolested. The son, fed up with being confined to the embassy, left after just a few days and returned to his university studies without trouble.
The presence of Fang and his wife was cloaked in such deep secrecy that “only about six people in the embassy” knew of their whereabouts, James R. Lilley, the ambassador at the time, recalled in his memoir, “China Hands: Nine Decades of Adventure, Espionage, and Diplomacy in Asia.” Lilley’s wife found out when she stumbled on a high wall of books shielding Fang’s sleeping quarters.
Despite the similarities of both events, the political context for Chen Guangcheng is different:
Chen, the blind legal activist, is a far less contentious figure than Fang, against whom Deng, China’s paramount leader until his death in 1997, bore a deep personal animus. China’s quarrel with Chen, by contrast, involves mostly low-ranking officials in Shandong province.
Fang, denounced as a “black hand” behind the Tiananmen protests and pilloried as a dangerous criminal by party-controlled media, faced a formal Chinese arrest warrant. Chen has been technically free — though closely monitored — since his release from prison in 2010. This, said John Kamm, a longtime campaigner on behalf of Chinese political prisoners, “means there should be no legal impediment for him to leave the country.”
Nonetheless, any U.S. role in protecting Chen will likely set up an acrimonious and possibly long tug of war between Washington and Beijing. A foreign dissident seeking refuge, added the former U.S. diplomat who was involved in Fang’s case, is “something enormously unwelcome. It creates huge problems politically and, also, logistically.”
Reports say that Mr. Chen is not seeking asylum. But his desires today may be overtaken by events.