Sometimes an event reminds us – as if we’d forget – who the good guys and bad guys are. Only the bad guys don’t know it. Which is why they’re bad.
In letting Cheng Guangcheng out of their custody without adequate guarantees, without even any Americans accompanying him, U.S. diplomats appear to have muffed it. They naively imagined that China is a nation of laws, at least sort of, and its regime minions have some scruples. Neither is true.
Chen’s story illustrates that the rights and legal protections of Chinese citizens are merely theoretical, always subject to the regime’s arbitrary dictates. Chen had already spent four years in prison for the “crime” of trying to get China to follow its own laws. For the past 19 months he was under a house arrest which not even the regime could pretend was legal. Though Chen was now in theory a free citizen charged with no crime, authorities built a floodlit concrete wall around his home, jammed his phone, and deployed dozens of thugs to rough up anyone attempting to reach him.
Somehow the blind activist managed to escape and reach the Beijing U.S. embassy. He says that afterward, his wife spent two days tied to a chair by the local goons, who stood around with sticks threatening to beat her to death.
While Chen’s newly high international profile may deter officials from further brutalizing him and his immediate family, not so regarding other activists associated with him. At least one who tried to visit him in the Beijing hospital has disappeared into police custody. Indeed, the regime seems to see the Chen affair as reason to crack down even harder against dissent, including pervasive internet blockages to prevent Chinese citizens from even discussing the case.
That China’s rulers actually had the chutzpah to demand an apology from the U.S. reveals their mindset – so arrogant and imbued with the false authority of their power that they are incapable of realizing how they look to anyone else – that they are the bad guys.
We believe power comes from a ballot box. Mao said it comes from the barrel of a gun, and meant it. His successors adhered to this dictum too, when they used guns to see off a perceived challenge to their rule at Tiananmen Square in 1989. It’s still the same regime; never forget it.