Clinton Hopes To Soon Welcome Chinese Activist Chen To The U.S.

May 8, 2012
Originally published on May 8, 2012 6:41 am

Though she won't put a timetable on when activist Chen Guangcheng will be able to leave China with his family and go to the United States, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said today that "we're certainly making progress."

And she hopes to soon "be welcoming Mr. Chen to the United States to pursue the studies he wants to do," Clinton told NPR's Michele Kelemen during an interview in New Delhi, where the secretary of state was wrapping up a week-long trip through Asia that also included stops in China and Bangladesh.

Of the criticism that some have leveled at the U.S. for its handling of Chen's case, Clinton said she is "very proud of the extraordinary professionalism and commitment of our diplomats."

Michele's interview with the secretary of state is due to air on today's Morning Edition. We'll add the as-broadcast version to the top of this post later. Click here to find an NPR station that broadcasts or streams the show.

Chen, a blind, self-trained lawyer who has worked to expose Chinese policies on forced abortions, escaped from house arrest on April 22 and spent about a week at the U.S. embassy in Beijing. Just as Clinton was to arrive in China for talks, Chen left the embassy after receiving what U.S. officials said were assurances from Chinese authorities that he could live freely. But within hours after arriving at a hospital for treatment of injuries he suffered during his flight from arrest, Chen was telling U.S. authorities and journalists that he feared for both his and his family's safety and wanted to leave China.

Friday, a potential solution surfaced: Chinese authorities said Chen could apply to study abroad; U.S. authorities said he could come to the U.S. That deal is still being worked on. Clinton said U.S. officials continue to meet with Chinese authorities, and that the U.S. side is "at the point of getting all our arrangements finished."

Chen remains at the hospital in Beijing.

Today, according to The Associated Press, he said "the Chinese government has quietly promised him it will investigate abuses he and his family suffered at the hands of local authorities — a rare instance of Beijing bowing to demands of an activist."

And Chen told NPR, as Louisa Lim reports, that he's confident he will be able to leave China for the U.S. The government, he was told, has given its word. Still, he fears that his supporters will suffer.

On other issues, Clinton said:

-- India has "certainly made progress" in cutting its oil imports from Iran, which is an important step in enforcing economic sanctions aimed at convincing Iran to give up any ambitions for nuclear weapons.

-- She is "going to miss" her job as the USA's top diplomat (Clinton has previously said she would not be part of any second Obama administration). "It's an incredible rush to represent the United States of America," she said. "It's been the most extraordinary experience and privilege that I could ever imagine. ... But it's in my view time to move on."

Also before heading home, Clinton said that "the latest foiled bomb plot targeting an airliner is an indication that, while the device did not ultimately pose a threat, terrorists remain determined," CNN writes:

" 'These terrorists keep trying ... to devise more perverse and terrible ways to kill innocent people, and it's a reminder as to why we have to remain vigilant at home and abroad in protecting our nation and in protecting friendly nations,' Clinton told reporters at a news conference in New Delhi."

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Chen's story overshadowed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to the world's two most populous nations. She arrived in China just as the story of the human rights activist was exploding. Now she's visiting India, though the Chinese activist is still on many people's minds. Secretary Clinton sat down for a talk with NPR's Michele Kelemen.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: This was a trip about managing big relationships here in India and China, but it was the fate of one man, Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, that dominated the news. Clinton spoke to NPR today in New Delhi about how she hopes this issue will be resolved. How soon do you expect him to be able to be in the United States?

HILLARY CLINTON: He is still in the hospital receiving medical treatment. We remain in close contact with him. He has been meeting with the Chinese government to prepare the necessary arrangements to be able to come to the United States to pursue his studies. And on our end, we've gone to the point of getting all of our arrangements finished. So I think, you know, we're certainly making progress but I'm not going to put any timeline on it.

KELEMEN: And what are you telling the Chinese now about the future for Chen's family, the network of people that have supported him?

CLINTON: I'm not going to go into those conversations. You know, let's take this one day at a time, and we hope to be welcoming Mr. Chen to the United States to pursue the studies that he wishes to do.

KELEMEN: When you were in China, you talked about how an established power, like the U.S., is working with this rising power of China. The same is true here in India. But here you have a democracy, more of a natural partner for the U.S., yet India still doesn't see eye-to-eye with the U.S. on some of its policies, like Syria or Iran. How are you working through that with them?

CLINTON: Well, I don't know any two nations that see eye-to-eye on everything, whether they're democracies or authoritarian. And part of diplomacy, part of what I do all day, every day, is working with counterparts to try to make progress in areas where we agree, try to narrow the areas of disagreement and bridge them in some way. And India is the largest democracy in the world. It is, by its own self-description; contentious, argumentative, dynamic.

And they have to balance out, you know, 1.3 billion opinions. So I'm not surprised that there would be debates within their society and political system, just like there are within ours.

KELEMEN: But do you feel like you've made some progress with them on, for instance, the issue of Iran?

CLINTON: Well, as I just said in a press conference, they have certainly made progress in reducing their imports of crude oil from Iran. And they share our goal, which is to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

On the other hand, if you're an Indian politician, or an Indian business owner, or an Indian citizen who is desperate to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and get them electricity and, you know, keep the lights on, this is a hard decision for them, because they have been historically looking to Iran for a significant percentage of their oil.

KELEMEN: This trip seemed pretty hard on your staff.


CLINTON: Yes, I've noticed.


KELEMEN: Was it tough on you, or are these trips just routine for you at this point?

CLINTON: Well, I have the most amazing dedicated staff. I hope they're not listening, 'cause I don't want it to go to their heads. But, you know, this was probably a little higher visibility than some of the trips. But, you know, we're out there doing the best we can everyday to further American values and protect our, you know, security and make it clear that American leadership is alive and well.

KELEMEN: Thank you very much for your time.

CLINTON: Thank you, good to talk to you.

KELEMEN: Secretary Clinton spoke to us after her swing through Asia, a weeklong trip that took her to China, Bangladesh and India.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, New Delhi.

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.