WASHINGTON – The escape of a high-profile Chinese dissident, who may be in the care of U.S. diplomats, could be the biggest test for U.S./China relations in 20 years.
“The Chinese believe that if they were to let Chen (Guangcheng) to go free this could cause a lot of other activists within China to rise up and create a real problem for that state,” Norah O’Donnell, chief White House correspondent for CBS, said on WTOP Tuesday morning.
In advance of high-level strategic and economic talks between the two countries, the Obama administration is handling the situation very delicately, she says.
And with the sensitive nature of the issues surrounding the blind Chinese lawyer, Forbes.com columnist Gordon Chang says the situation creates a crisis for China, not the United States.
“We see some indications that the splintering of the Chinese political system, which became evident in the beginning of February, has gotten worse over the Chen matter,” he says.
Chang, an expert on China and North Korea, says the talks set to begin Thursday between China and the U.S. “have been going on since 2006 and have yielded very little for the United States.”
“So if the talks are derailed it isn’t really going to affect things between the United States and China,” Chang says.
The situation becomes even more difficult for the Chinese government, he adds, as they search for a resolution.
Chang says the government could give up and let Chen and his wife go to the United States.
“But Chen has indicated he does not want to leave China. He wants to change China,” he says.
“This puts the Communist party in a very difficult position. It’s already fragile at this point because of the intense infighting at the top,” Chang says. “This is something that potentially could split the party even further and lead to even more social unrest and turmoil in China.”