NEW YORK -- A New York University law professor who advised Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng defended the deal struck Wednesday between the U.S. and China, which was supposed to allow Chen to live with his wife and family free of harassment by the local authorities in Shandong province.
“It was a daring innovative move to stay in China and work for development of the rule of law,” Jerome Cohen said. “If he didn’t take this option, he would always regret giving up his lifetime mission. ...The danger is very high, of course. In America ... he would be neutered, just a voice in the wilderness with no influence in his own country.”
Chen also feared that if he sought diplomatic asylum in the United States, his family would not be allowed to join him, the law professor said.
Cohen said the deal called for President Obama to make a public statement in support of the dissident, announcing or endorsing the terms of his release and "thereby guaranteeing engagement of the highest leaders of China in making this deal work."
“Of course, the supposition was if this bold experiment failed, the United States ... would use its influence to have him finally leave the country,” Cohen said Wednesday in a conference call sponsored by the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations.
Human rights groups have questioned the agreement that led to Chen leaving the U.S. Embassy, saying there is little to ensure that China would live up to its promises. Chen himself reportedly told CNN that he felt let down by the U.S. government and now wants to leave China, fearing for his life.
Cohen suggested that Chen might have panicked after being left alone overnight in a Beijing hospital. "The trouble is nobody appears to have stayed with him and that might have induced panic. ... The embassy people seem not to have left anybody by his bedside,” Cohen said.
Chen stayed in the U.S. Embassy for six days after escaping from house arrest.
He had been jailed and then later confined to his home after exposing forced sterilization and other abuses in Shandong.
-- Barbara Demick
Photo: Chen Guangcheng, left, is helped by Kurt Campbell, right, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs, and U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke as they leave the U.S. Embassy for a hospital in Beijing on Wednesday. Credit: U.S. Embassy Beijing Press Office