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Opinion

China's deal for Chen Guangcheng: latest signal of desire for better US ties

China’s deal to allow blind dissident lawyer Chen Guangcheng to exit the country to study in the US, the Bo Xiliai purge, successful bilateral talks with the US, and other developments indicate that Beijing may be committed to some reforms – and warming relations with Washington.

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In February, the US consulate in Chengdu had obligingly handed over Wang Lijun, the “defecting,” powerful, and well-informed Chongqing police chief. Mr. Wang had told American officials that he feared for his life from Bo Xilai’s leadership, which Wang was exposing as deeply corrupt.

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The American consulate, after all, could have used Wang to embarrass the top Chinese leadership by publishing transcripts of what he told the Americans. Yet the consulate declined to do so. Instead, the US officials immediately turned Wang over to the Chinese authorities. And Mr. Bo was soon ousted.

Beijing’s handling of the Bo affair itself indicates a more reform-minded leadership, with great possible openness to warmer US relations.

Chinese media continue to reprint the Chinese leaders’ revealing instructions to Communist Party and government officials following the Bo purge. These orders include promises to rid the lower party and government organs of corruption and nepotism; urge the People’s Republic of China at all levels to adopt the standards of “modern states” toward the “rule of law.” This is opposed to what a party statement refers candidly to as “China’s thousands of years of ‘rule by man’.”

While strict censorship of China’s Internet prevailed during the Chen affair, the Chinese leadership nevertheless showed a human face with regard to Chen, his wife, and children. In the final days of the family’s stay in the Beijing hospital, the government provided them with medical care, fresh clothing, a cake for the son’s birthday, and so on. While this was obviously done “for show,” it seemed to indicate a regime posture of accommodation rather than confrontation.

Of course, observers must place the impending warming of Chinese relations with America in context of the long-term, overarching policy initiated in 1978 by the former monumental leader of reform in China, Deng Xiaoping.

Deng, whose tradition is inscribed in the PRC Constitution along with Mao’s, repeatedly advised succeeding generations of top leaders to show restraint in Beijing’s domestic and foreign policy. He advised his successors to show moderation toward America and the West and to soft-pedal Communist “revolutionism.”

This stance, he indicated, was absolutely necessary in order for China to “turn outward” and thereby modernize itself – with, of course, Western help. It seems that China’s leaders may be beginning to follow Deng’s advice. 

Albert L. Weeks, professor emeritus of international affairs at New York University, is the author of several books on world affairs.

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