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Chinese dissident Chen becomes political headache for Obama


The following ran on the May 3, 2012, edition of The Hill. Political Scientist Cal Jillson provided expertise for this story.

May 9, 2012

By Julian Pecquet and Amie Parnes

Chen Guangcheng’s daring escape to the U.S. embassy turned into a major political headache for President Obama on Thursday as Republicans accused the administration of naively handing the blind human rights activist back to Chinese authorities.

The administration as early as Wednesday hoped to have scored a diplomatic coup with a deal that appeared to salvage high-stakes negotiations with China on Syria and global trade.

By Thursday, however, the political storyline had flipped 180 degrees, with the administration desperately pushing back against the impression that it had abandoned the blind dissident to Chinese authorities and betrayed American values in the process.

Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney said it was apparent “our embassy failed to put in place the kind of verifiable measures that would have assured the safety of Mr. Chen and his family.”

“If these reports are true, this is a dark day for freedom and it’s a day of shame for the Obama Administration,” Romney said.

House Republicans vowed to get answers from the Obama administration....

“It's hard to play them in a way that makes you look heroic,” said Cal Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University. “You want to resolve it in a way that reflects American values of human rights but you don't want it to be a cause celebre because it washes away your ability to deal with other issues. And since China will be the principal bilateral relationship with the United States, it has to be handled carefully.”

Jillson said he expected the situation to quickly be resolved given the two nations' mutual dependence.