Diplomatic Briefing

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Archive for May 20, 2012

Newsline: China activist arrives in US as diplomatic drama closes

Activist Chen Guangcheng, who had been at the center of a diplomatic dispute between the U.S. and Chinese governments, arrived in New York City late Saturday after a flight from Beijing with his wife and two children. Weeks after he escaped from house arrest in a Shandong province village and sought refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, Chen — a self-taught lawyer blinded by childhood illness — arrived to study law at New York University. He and his family arrived Saturday evening at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey and were whisked to New York City. They were greeted with cheers at the Greenwich Village complex housing NYU faculty and graduate students where they will live. “For the past seven years, I have never had a day’s rest, so I have come here for reparation in body and spirit,” he said through an interpreter; Chen does not speak English. He urged the crowd to fight injustice, and thanked the U.S. and Chinese governments, and the embassies of Switzerland, Canada and France. The arrival of Chen, one of China’s most prominent dissidents, and the negotiations that led up to it, appeared to reflect careful calculations in the U.S. and China as they seek to cooperate on a range of economic and security issues. The U.S. role in aiding Chen — spiriting him into the embassy after he escaped house arrest with the help of other dissidents — infuriated the Chinese, who complained bitterly about what they considered interference in their internal affairs. But in the end, Chinese officials quietly engaged with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and a team of diplomats to defuse what could have evolved into a full-blown diplomatic crisis.



Commentary: Negotiations over dissident offered rare glimpse into how US embassy, China’s leadership operates

The decision that would launch one of the most intense and improbable negotiations in the history of U.S.-China relations was made in the space of hours — and it was sparked by a series of phone calls to the American Embassy. Chen Guangcheng, the blind Chinese dissident, was somewhere in the sprawling edges of Beijing on Wednesday, April 25. His foot was broken in several places from a daring getaway from house arrest three days earlier, and his leg was beginning to swell. According to the activists who placed the initial calls, he was moving from place to place to avoid detection. He was pleading for shelter. The request hit the embassy like a rocket, setting off a flurry of secure calls among officials in Beijing and senior State Department officials in Washington. They weighed various scenarios, the possible diplomatic fallout with the Chinese, and the consequences for high-level meetings planned for the following week between Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and China’s top leaders. The name Fang Lizhi quickly came up. The last Chinese dissident U.S. officials were known to have ushered into the embassy, in 1989, Fang had remained stuck behind its walls for more than a year, exacerbating friction between the United States and China. With Chen, the embassy had been told there was a narrow window of opportunity because of his need to keep moving. Senior White House officials were briefed. Then Clinton relayed her ultimate decision to the embassy: Bring him in. Talks with the Chinese began four days later. For weeks, U.S. officials have kept secret many of the sensitive details about their negotiations over Chen’s fate. But with the 40-year-old lawyer safely aboard a plane Saturday, senior administration officials described extensively for the first time their dealings with the Chinese — how they struck the first deal only to have it fall apart, and how the negotiations almost collapsed again. Diplomacy with China is often complicated by its government’s opaque nature, layers of bureaucracy, rule by the Communist Party and sometimes puzzling decision-making process. But those involved in the negotiations said the high-stakes talks over Chen offer a rare glimpse into how China’s leadership operates in real time — under considerable internal and external pressures. The Chinese Embassy did not respond to requests for comment for this story.


Newsline: Holy See slams allegations against Vatican’s US ambassador

The Vatican is threatening to take legal action against those responsible for publishing a new book of leaked internal documents. The book sheds light on power struggles and corruption inside the Holy See and the thinking of its embattled top banker. Pope Benedict XVI has already appointed a commission of cardinals to investigate the “Vatileaks” scandal. It erupted earlier this year with the publication of leaked memos alleging corruption and mismanagement in Holy See affairs and internal squabbles over its efforts to comply with international anti-money-laundering norms. The publication Saturday of “His Holiness” by Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, added fuel to the fire, reproducing confidential letters and memos to and from Pope Benedict and his personal secretary which, according to the Vatican, violated the pope’s right to privacy. Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said in a statement Saturday the book was an “objectively defamatory” work that “clearly assumes characters of a criminal act.” He warned the Holy See would get to the bottom of who “stole” the documents, who received them and who published them. He warned the Holy See would seek international cooperation in its quest for justice, presumably with Italian magistrates. The Vatican had already warned of legal action against Nuzzi after he published letters in January from the former second-highest Vatican administrator to the pope. In those letters the administrator begged not to be transferred for having exposed alleged corruption that cost the Holy See millions of euro in higher contract prices. The prelate, Monsignor Carlo Maria Vigano, is now the Vatican’s US ambassador. Much of the documentation is fairly Italy-centric: about a 2009 scandal over the ex-editor of the newspaper of the Italian bishops’ conference, a previously-unknown dinner between Benedict and Italy’s president, and even a 2011 letter from Italy’s pre-eminent talk show host Bruno Vespa to the pope enclosing a check for 10,000 euro for his charity work and asking for a private audience in exchange. But there are international leaks as well, including diplomatic cables from Vatican embassies from Jerusalem to Cameroon. Some concern the conclusions of the pope’s delegate to the disgraced Legion of Christ religious order. In a memo sent to the pope last autumn he warned that the financial situation of the order, beset by a scandal over its pedophile founder, “while not grave, is serious and pressing.”