In the two decades since Tiananmen Square, China has emerged as a global juggernaut: the state-run economy has been held out as a model for economic success without democracy. But now the Chinese economy is slowing and wealth inequality is at an all-time high. The recent downfall of hardliner Bo Xilai nearly derailed the party’s leadership succession. And the daring escape of a blind lawyer from 19 months of house arrest has empowered China’s dissidents. These incidents threaten to undermine U.S. objectives at this week’s economic and security talks in Beijing. Diane and guests explore new complications in U.S. – China relations.


  • Renee Xia International director, Chinese Human Rights Defenders Network
  • Minxin Pei Professor of government, Claremont McKenna College
  • James Fallows National correspondent, "The Atlantic."
  • Doug Paal Vice president for studies, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace


  • 10:06:56

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The escape of the blind Chinese dissident from house arrest is just the latest in a series of incidents complicating U.S.-China relations. As Secretaries Clinton and Geithner head to Beijing tomorrow for high-level talks, there is rising uncertainty about the future direction of U.S.-China relations.

  • 10:07:25

    MS. DIANE REHMJoining me to talk about political intrigue in China: James Fallows of The Atlantic magazine, Renee Xia of the Chinese Human Rights Defenders Network, Douglas Paal of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and, joining us by phone from Claremont McKenna College in California, Prof. Minxin Pei. I look forward to hearing your questions and comments throughout the hour. Join us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.

  • 10:08:15

    MS. RENEE XIAThank you, Diane.

  • 10:08:15

    MR. DOUG PAALGood morning.

  • 10:08:16

    MR. JAMES FALLOWSGood morning.

  • 10:08:17

    REHMGood to see you all. Jim Fallows, let's start with you. What's the latest on the escape dissident Chen Guangcheng?

  • 10:08:29

    FALLOWSWell, there are still -- the reports are still unconfirmed that he is somewhere within U.S. protection within China, presumably in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. That would be the most natural place. And negotiations are under way now before the arrival later this week of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Treasury Timothy Geithner and the rest of the American team for these strategic and economic dialogue talks, which are the big deal negotiations between the U.S. and Chinese governments.

  • 10:08:57

    FALLOWSThis comes in the aftermath of the Bo Xilai scandal and unfolding political turmoil within China and before the beginning of the decade -- the decadal, once-a-decade transition of political power from Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao over the next year or so. So it is a time of uncertainty on the Chinese side and of delicacy between the U.S. and China.

  • 10:09:22

    REHMIt's interesting that President Obama did not want to say very much about him.

  • 10:09:30

    FALLOWSIndeed. He used the State Department formulation that he was aware of the reports that Mr. Chen was -- had come -- had sought some kind of protection from the United States, and he didn't say more than that. And I think this is because the United States, on the one hand, I think has a black and white situation. Somebody in this kind of legal distress in his home country who appeals for asylum, the U.S. would have to grant that to him. On the other hand, I think it's in the U.S.' interest to downplay this for the moment until we have a clearer sense of how this is going to unfold.

  • 10:10:05

    REHMRenee Xia, tell us about Mr. Chen, who he is and why he was under house arrest.

  • 10:10:14

    XIAChen Guangcheng has for more than one decade be defending rights of fellow villagers and is a self-taught lawyer. Even back in 1994, he was fighting for some paper mill spewing polluted chemicals into local waterways. And he was traveling to Beijing to petition for the rights of people with disability and where they weren't supposed to pay taxes or pay bus fares, for example. And he owned that battle, and he, for a while, he became national -- like a model citizen of a kind and was on CCTV and was given a title of the hero.

  • 10:11:04

    XIAHe was allowed to join international visitor program to the U.S., a program run by the State Department in 2004. After he returned, he continued this sort of work. But as soon as he got to work on the one-child family planning, probably, mostly in the implementation process where local officials seemed particularly zealous with using forced abortion, forced sterilization.

  • 10:11:36

    REHMHe was very much opposed to abortion and spoke out about that.

  • 10:11:42

    XIAHe was opposed to forced abortion and forced sterilization as some (word?) where officials were rounded up, woman pregnant, to perform that -- you know, it's equivalent to torture.

  • 10:11:58

    REHMDo we have any idea how he escaped?

  • 10:12:05

    XIAWith a month's preparations with activists. Apparently, there were sympathetic guards involved and activists who had been and cleverly planning through various channels.

  • 10:12:22


  • 10:12:23

    XIAAnd I think the credit goes to himself. He was immensely a clever man and very brave, and he grabbed the opportunity when the guards were not watching very carefully.

  • 10:12:38

    REHMThere is some speculation that he may have had help from those who were standing guard.

  • 10:12:47

    XIAThere was, yeah.

  • 10:12:49


  • 10:12:50


  • 10:12:51

    REHMThat's it. All right. Let me turn to you Prof. Pei. You were in China last week. Tell us the impact of Mr. Chen's escape on the Chinese government.

  • 10:13:08

    PROF. MINXIN PEILet's see. Thursday, so that was before his escape -- dramatic escape was announced. So within China, there was no discussion of Mr. Chen's escape. That conversation was rather dominated by the fallout from Bo Xilai's ouster as a senior party official.

  • 10:13:32

    REHMSo what are his options right now would you say?

  • 10:13:41

    PEIOh, his options are not that many. One is to get the asylum in the U.S., which he does not want to do because, once he comes to the U.S., he will be marginalized. He will not be an effective champion for human rights in China. The other is to return to status quo, which, of course, he does not want to do either. So there has to be something between. I think that's where the negotiations have got stuck.

  • 10:14:14


  • 10:14:15

    PEIThe Chinese government does not want to make any guarantees regarding his safety and freedom while the U.S. would want to have that kind of guarantees.

  • 10:14:27

    REHMAnd, Douglas Paal, how do you see Mr. Chen's options?

  • 10:14:32

    PAALWell, I think he, as mentioned, just said he has, in my view, four options. One is to go back, which is not acceptable, with some kind of guarantees that we would probably find difficult to accept...

  • 10:14:42

    REHMYou mean, go back to his home.

  • 10:14:43

    PAALBack to his home -- his hometown or live somewhere in China, go to a university, do things like that. That's not realistic. Another is to go to the U.S. A third is to go to a third country, and the fourth is to stay in the embassy. There probably are people in the Chinese government who are leaning toward a hard-line response, not the kind of pragmatic response we're trying to get through our diplomacy.

  • 10:15:04

    PAALThey won't say, well, let him stew in the U.S. Embassy. Let the Americans take care of him. They'll hark back to Cardinal Mindszenty, who spent 15 years till his death in the American Embassy in Budapest after the 1956 uprising. I think that this -- the pragmatic outcome seems to me to be one we can be optimistic about on the basis of evidence so far that government has not ideologized this issue in public.

  • 10:15:29

    PAALWe haven't seen the underground split within the Chinese leadership in this current power struggle, that's been appearing from time to time in the open, affect this particular issue so far. I consider that a good sign, and I would say the president and Secretary Clinton's restraint in public comment contributes to a pragmatic solution to the issue.

  • 10:15:50

    REHMWhat about the fact that Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell of the State Department has gone ahead of Secretaries Clinton and Geithner? How successful do you think he could or might be?

  • 10:16:07

    PAALWell, we all hope he'll be very successful. But my understanding is he was to have gone early anyway because there were details to wrap up before the secretary arrives today.

  • 10:16:15

    REHMOf course.

  • 10:16:17

    PAALAnd so he -- this would have been, you know, added duty, not something they planned to do. Secondly, you know, it's always the question: Does an ambassador really want someone coming in from Washington negotiating over his shoulder? And so this is a very delicate matter, and I imagine there's a lot of constraints on what Assistant Secretary Campbell will be doing.

  • 10:16:37

    REHMDo we realistically have any idea of what Mr. Chen wants? I know that on our website,, we do have a video of him speaking and with an English translation. What do you think he wants, Jim Fallows?

  • 10:17:00

    FALLOWSAnd you're talking about his long-term desires for China or his...

  • 10:17:03

    REHMNo, no, no. Immediate first.

  • 10:17:05

    FALLOWSI think in an ideal world, he would want something that probably, as Doug Paal was saying, is just unattainable, which is to be able to continue his civil rights campaign within China without molestation or prosecution or house arrest or an...

  • 10:17:18

    REHMAnd how likely is that?

  • 10:17:20

    FALLOWSI think that is very unlikely. And it's worth mentioning for American listeners who don't know this that his appeal has not been overthrow of the Chinese Communist Party, of radical democratization for China. Essentially, he's holding the government to its own stated principles. That's, in a way, what makes him so subversive. But also, that's why if he's not in China, it's much harder for him to make that kind of long term...

  • 10:17:41

    REHMHe -- their own stated principles…

  • 10:17:43

    FALLOWSAbout rule of law, rights for people with disabilities, rights of families on this abortion question. So he's, in a way, the most threatening kind of reformer of saying you should be true to your own stated rules.

  • 10:17:55


  • 10:17:58

    XIAI think I would -- I'm thinking about some in between ways, as Doug and Pei Minxin had been suggesting, which is not -- well, there are two of those middle ways. One is he could stay in China but not back to the village because where he had been illegally house arrested for 19 months and then the central government to basically turn it the other way. So there's a way he could stay. For example, bring his family in Beijing where under the watchful eyes of the international press and the diplomats.

  • 10:18:36

    REHMRenee Xia, she is international director of the Chinese Human Rights Defenders Network. Want to hear more about his family when we come back.

  • 10:20:04

    REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about the unfolding story in China as both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Treasury Geithner head for China. There are a number of issues facing them, facing U.S. relations with China. Just before the break, Renee Xia, we were talking about the blind individual who is currently seeking protection at the U.S. Embassy. He has escaped from house arrest, but his family is where?

  • 10:20:53

    XIAHis wife and young daughter and his mother remain in the same house that has been surrounded by guards, and his relatives who live in the same village, four of them have reported they've been apprehended by police. And one of the nephew who is being detained, whose wife was the only contact with the outside world a few days ago, who had hired a lawyer, and now, he has lost contact. And today, we had information that the lawyer has also lost the contact to his friends.

  • 10:21:33

    XIASo one of the midway solution, I suppose, would be family be united with Chen Guangcheng and they now to stay in Beijing, where for, you know, a period of time he could get medical treatment and to ease the tension and then gradually he could back to work. And the other solution would be a temporary leave to the U.S. or third country, not for political asylum, but for medical treatment and temporary visit -- visiting program somewhere for year or two. Then that will give him the option to return to the country.

  • 10:22:08

    REHMBut what would then happen to his family in the meantime?

  • 10:22:13

    XIAIn the meantime, as of the moment, they're in very precarious situation. I would imagine the local authorities would do harsh things to seek revenge. So right now, the concern really should be, in some ways, to turn to the family.

  • 10:22:34

    REHMJim Fallows, if Mr. Chen does want to remain in China, how big a problem is that for the U.S.?

  • 10:22:46

    FALLOWSIt's a problem for the U.S. in terms of what we can do to affect the outcome because the Chinese government would be very quick and correct in pointing out that the U.S. has no jurisdiction internally in China. And so the international community could make Mr. Chen one more of the figures whose safety and freedom international human rights people care about. But there really is nothing the U.S. could do once he -- if he were operating within China.

  • 10:23:12

    REHMProf. Pei, you said that if Mr. Chen does come to the U.S., he would be marginalized forever. But couldn't there be a possible deal, as Renee Xia has indicated, where he comes here possibly for treatment, perhaps for a year or so? How would that be if he then returned to China?

  • 10:23:44

    PEIWell, it is possible, but I think once he leave China, the Chinese government probably would not want to see him back. So it will -- the deal will have to involve an ironclad guarantee by the Chinese government that after a year, they will take him back. But then the problem re-emerges. Once he gets back to China, where are they going to put him? Are they going to put him in Beijing or are they going to allow him to return to his village? So we may just postpone the problem without solving it.

  • 10:24:19

    REHMNot very good options, Mr. Paal?

  • 10:24:22

    PAALI agree, they're not very good. The Chinese have been, in recent months, going through an internal struggle over the security forces and their operations. And this has been percolating below the surface for the most part, but it came up in the Sichuan-Chengdu episode in March, and it's in this episode as well. There must be internal recriminations over the people who failed to keep him in place.

  • 10:24:45

    PAALThere must be internal recriminations over the pretext under which they've have been keeping him locked up all this time and about whether there's been too harsh in approach. We've seen the premier of China speak out for political reform more vocally in recent weeks, hasn't so far been -- seem to be effective, but it suggests that some people are trying to move the consensus and the Chinese leadership toward a different outcome. And I can understand how the security forces would be pushing back. In that sea of change in China, Mr. Chen is floating on top like a cork.

  • 10:25:15

    REHMWhoa. That's quite vivid. Yes, go ahead, Prof. Pei.

  • 10:25:21

    PEIOh, no, no, no, no. I just -- nothing, I'm sorry.

  • 10:25:24

    REHMAll right. I -- sure.

  • 10:25:25

    FALLOWSCan I say just one extra point to -- Doug Paal was mentioning the tensions over the use of the security forces. There also is an important central government versus local government issue here, where the harshest treatment of Mr. Chen has been from the local authorities. And the central government has not been ordering these and has been -- seemed somehow embarrassed by it in different ways.

  • 10:25:43

    FALLOWSAnd I think the tension, the limits on central government's control of all these issues is a major point about China in general, and I think it comes up in this case too.

  • 10:25:51

    REHMJim, Fallows, talk about how this case of Mr. Chen compares with that of the former police chief Wang Lijun?

  • 10:26:04

    FALLOWSYes, so it was back in February that as the scandal over Bo Xilai and his family in Chongqing was unraveling, but had not yet become public. I think, first, this police chief Wang Lijun went to the British authorities in Chongqing, I believe, and then to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu, and he -- we don't know exactly what he was asking. But a request for political asylum from a figure like this would be entirely different from that of somebody like Mr. Chen because Mr. Chen is, by any reasonable definition, what political asylum was invented for.

  • 10:26:36

    FALLOWSNow, whether or not he wants to leave China is a separate thing, but he is persecuted in his own country. He's seeking protection. The police chief Wang, by contrast, was someone who, until a day or two earlier, had been using the oppressive force of the state against people he didn't like. So he was more trying to make a kind of deal about he had information, was it worth it to the U.S. I think the U.S., if it had come to a formal request for asylum, would not have granted it because he was more of somebody in a power play within China.

  • 10:27:03

    REHMExplain this case for us, Renee, if you would and why the police chief sought asylum.

  • 10:27:12

    XIAWell, from all we have learned so far because he felt -- he feared for his life because he had details of investigation of Bo Xilai's wife, Gu Kailai, be involved in the murder of the British businessman Heywood. Then he sought protection in the U.S. consulate. But I will agree with Jim's -- what he just said, the two cases contrastingly very different.

  • 10:27:39

    REHMVery different.

  • 10:27:42

    XIARemember that Bo Xilai and Wang Lijun are very much hated by the Chinese public. And Chen Guangcheng is a totally different story. He is not even like Liu Xiaobo or Ai Weiwei, who are much more marginalized. And Chen Guangcheng is more of a mainstream and hero because he is blind, and he could not possibly been said to subvert the state. And he worked for the most, you know, grassroots, peasants' interest and their rights.

  • 10:28:17

    XIAAnd he is much wider -- they know it, in that sense, so the handling, I would say, let's not speculate it too much how the Chinese government would react to this Chen Guangcheng episode because until we know, I would think this is a good opportunity for the Chinese leaders. I would urge them to consider this as a very good example to set for them to how to really respect the rule of law or to do something in the Chen Guangcheng case 'cause he's not a criminal.

  • 10:28:53

    XIAHe's not wanted, unlike the case of Fang Lizhi 23 years ago, where he was on the top of the most wanted list and Deng Xiaoping personally accused Fang Lizhi for being the black hands behind the Tiananmen protests. And Chen Guangcheng has no issues with the law. Right now, he should be a free man.

  • 10:29:15

    REHMInteresting. Doug Paal.

  • 10:29:17

    PAALWell, I think it's worth noting that the United States cannot grant asylum in foreign countries. It can only be done on American territory. It's practically speaking, of course, if someone is in a country needs to be extracted, trying to get the government to agree that that person deserves asylum is an impossibility, so you have to find ways of working with the system as you find it.

  • 10:29:37

    PAALWe had a similar case, as mentioned, Fang Lizhi, when I was in the White House back in the period of Tiananmen. Fang Lizhi spent over a year at the American embassy until the situation cooled down. He got the Chinese to address this issue in practical terms. And the way that was found was to explain that he was having heart trouble and that, within China's law and Chinese practice, if someone has a medical reason to leave, they can allow that.

  • 10:30:01

    PAALAnd it gives them a face-saving step down from the high platform they've taken in prosecuting the person initially. That's what the embassy, that's what the diplomacy about this week is to achieve. Let's find that passage out of the country that, hopefully, he'll be willing to accept and China will be able to facilitate.

  • 10:30:24

    REHMAnd there's yet another controversy. Explain for us, Doug Paal, the Taiwan arms memo.

  • 10:30:33

    PAALWell, this is a good point to make because it's been lost in all the discussion coming out of China's press reporting. The United States sent a message to Congress last week in an effort to unblock a hold in the Senate on the appointment of Mark Lippert, a former aide to the president who has been nominated, now confirmed for assistant secretary of defense. In order to get this, they sent a letter to Congress which implied -- rather strongly, but with a lot of caveats -- that the administration will be prepared to sell new jet fighters to Taiwan.

  • 10:31:05

    PAALAnd this is an issue that caused tremendous controversy in the last couple of years with the Chinese and has blocked the talks between our militaries and others. Having this letter go forward -- and I'm sorry to say the letter bears marks of not being fully professionally prepared. So it's causing ripples both on Capitol Hill and in the policy community. But it's out there as the statement of the president now.

  • 10:31:26

    PAALAnd so therefore we have to live with it and find a way to get through these upcoming talks this week without having it blow up over a sense that China has core interests in Taiwan that we're transgressing.

  • 10:31:38

    REHMJim Fallows, all these issues at one and the same time.

  • 10:31:44

    FALLOWSYes, indeed. And it's part of the, for the past 30-plus years, ongoing challenge of managing U.S.-China relations because there are important cooperative elements and important areas where we disagree notably about Taiwan. This is a permanent area of disagreement because the U.S. feels bound by the terms of the Taiwan Relations Act to continue supplying arms to Taiwan if Taiwan wants it. The Chinese government always reacts very strongly and bitterly to that, and it's just -- that is the same now as it's been for quite a while.

  • 10:32:11

    REHMI have an email here from Kevin in Shanghai. He says, "Within the past six months, China has relaxed its one-child policy. Now, women born after 1982 may have two children, so, please, stop referring to China's one-child policy." Jim?

  • 10:32:37

    FALLOWSIn my experience, it's always been a policy with some variations in western parts of the country for certain ethnic groups, for people in certain economic situations, et cetera. There have been exceptions for quite a while. In recent times, there's been a broader relaxation of the policy, as Kevin says, from Shanghai. But it's still -- it's both a goal with exceptions, and I think the exceptions are increasing, but both those things are true.

  • 10:33:01

    REHMBring us up to date, then, on these high-level talks scheduled with Secretary Clinton, Secretary Geithner, what they hope to accomplish.

  • 10:33:14

    FALLOWSThis continues a pattern, begun during the George W. Bush administration, of trying to put together economic and political negotiations in a regular way so that the leading financial and strategic people from both sides get together in a systematic fashion. There's nothing dramatic that's expected, I think, from this week's talk. On the Treasury side, there's going to be the currency, intellectual property rules, Chinese protectionism in various ways.

  • 10:33:39

    FALLOWSOn Secretary Clinton's side, I think before the news of the past week, she would have expected mainly to talk about China taking on more and more of a role internationally in North Korea, with Iran, with Syria, things like that.

  • 10:33:51

    REHMAnd, Doug Paal, do you think that she would try to meet with Mr. Chen?

  • 10:33:58

    PAALPerhaps the politician in her would want to do that, but I think the diplomat in her would say this is -- be unwise and counterproductive.

  • 10:34:05

    REHMDo you agree with that, Renee?

  • 10:34:08

    XIAI think this will be an opportunity for Secretary Clinton to put into work her words, which is to promote human rights during those various dialogues. And she has personally mentioned Chen Guangcheng before, if not right now. And I know Chen Guangcheng's case has always been on the top of the list submitted by NGOs whenever there are U.S.-China talks, and that -- so there is opportunity somehow, maybe not so stark, to meet him or not him, but in some ways to raise concerns about the precarious situation, Chen Guangcheng.

  • 10:34:50

    REHMAnd, Prof. Pei, can you comment on what China's reaction will be to the visits of these two U.S. officials?

  • 10:35:00

    PEIWhat -- yeah. Well, the visit -- the Chinese government would like to make sure the visit goes ahead and has an appearance of success. So if they want to get this incident, Mr. Chen's asylum case behind them, they probably still have 24 hours to work on this. If they cannot get this resolved before Secretary Clinton and Geithner arrive in Beijing, then they will do so after they leave. But, so far, the Chinese government has indicated that it does not want the Chen Guangcheng case to derail this very important dialogue.

  • 10:35:46

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Doug Paal, how well do you think President Obama and the White House State Department are handling this visit?

  • 10:35:59

    PAALWell, given what the, you know -- this has transpired, I think the administration has acted with the appropriate caution and restraint that's necessary to bring about a pragmatic solution. The idea is not to stir up the Chinese underlying volcanic kind of political activity so that we get an eruption that gets in the way of dealing with Mr. Chen's case. And so for the short term, the tactical moves are -- been -- are pretty solid.

  • 10:36:27

    PAALOn the question of Secretary Clinton, she has been very forthcoming, as have almost all Americans, that Mr. Chen is being unjustly persecuted in China and deserves better treatment. But there are times when you have to show restraint on those thoughts until we could pass the precarious transition to his new status.

  • 10:36:47


  • 10:36:47

    FALLOWSAnd on the point of restraint, it speaks well for the United States that people like Mr. Chen seek our protection when they're in times of difficulty. But if the U.S. made this an issue of American interference within China, that would backfire and probably reduce support for Mr. Chen among average Chinese people.

  • 10:37:04

    REHMSo -- and you would not expect that to happen then.

  • 10:37:07

    FALLOWSI would hope that would not happen. I would not expect it to either.

  • 10:37:10

    REHMWould that disappoint you, Renee?

  • 10:37:14

    XIAIf Mr. Chen's case is not on the table or mentioned at all, I would be very disappointed.

  • 10:37:21

    REHMAnd do you expect it to be?

  • 10:37:25

    XIAI do.

  • 10:37:27


  • 10:37:27

    FALLOWSI should be clear. I was talking about having some formal publicized meeting between Secretary Clinton and Mr. Chen. I think certainly United States needs to raise the issue.

  • 10:37:35

    REHMJim Fallows of National Journal magazine. His forthcoming book is titled "China Airborne," coming out in May.

  • 10:40:04

    REHMAnd it's time to open the phones, 800-433-8850. Let's take a call from Lydia in Woodstock, Ill. Good morning to you.

  • 10:40:18

    LYDIAWell, good morning. Thank you. I thought it was fascinating to hear how events came together today. We have a blind, a legally blind attorney accusing his nation of willful blindness towards human rights. And earlier this morning, I heard that the government officials in Britain have now formally accused Mr. Murdoch, the head of News Corp., of willful blindness. This is a legal term. I'm sure Hillary Clinton, as an attorney, is familiar with this.

  • 10:40:53

    LYDIANow, is Mr. Chen a sea lawyer, so to speak? Or is he legally accredited as an attorney? And I also want to know if we can start talking about willful blindness in terms of activism on the world.

  • 10:41:13

    REHMInteresting. Renee.

  • 10:41:16

    XIAMr. Chen is a self-taught lawyer, such that the eminent Jerry Cohen has coined this word, the barefoot lawyer. And that applies to him and a whole class of others in China now who are taking them all in their hands and...

  • 10:41:36

    REHMNow, does that mean he is legally recognized by the government as being in a position to practice law?

  • 10:41:47

    XIAIt depends on what do you mean by legally recognized. He did not pass the bar, or he did not have a certificate. But according to Chinese law, all Chinese citizens can defend in court other people's cases.

  • 10:42:00

    REHMOh, I see.

  • 10:42:01

    XIAIt's called a citizen legal advocate.

  • 10:42:05


  • 10:42:06

    XIASo in that sense, he is recognized by the law.

  • 10:42:11

    REHMAll right. I hope that answers it, Lydia.

  • 10:42:14

    LYDIAWell, he is a sea lawyer. And there is that term as well where in the past on ships, those who felt that the mission of the ship was possibly going to be sidetracked by the leadership, these sea lawyers would contest. And they are now recognized by the legal profession.

  • 10:42:36

    REHMJim Fallows.

  • 10:42:37

    FALLOWSNot to address the sea lawyer but the blindness metaphor, I think one of the complaints from Mr. Chen's supporters has been willful blindness from the central government to the abuse by Mr. Chen by local authorities. So that would apply the model the caller is suggesting.

  • 10:42:50

    REHMAll right. Jim, let's talk about the ongoing leadership transition, where that stands. Has it been derailed by the Bo Xilai incident?

  • 10:43:03

    FALLOWSIt certainly has been affected by that incident because among the changes happening over the next year, plus, you know, the most notable, of course, is the replacement of Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao by Xi Jinping, who will presumably be the next president. And the other important change is the replacement of, I believe, seven of the nine members of the standing committee of the politburo.

  • 10:43:23

    FALLOWSAnd most people have expected that Bo Xilai would have been one of those. Certainly, that's not going to be the case now. And so it does put the rearrangement and reassignment of power into some question.

  • 10:43:33

    REHMWhere is he, Doug Paal? Do we know? Where is his wife? Where is he?

  • 10:43:40

    PAALWe don't know for sure, but I assume that they're on Beijing, that Bo Xilai is under party discipline. So he's probably under a form of house arrest. His wife is being investigated for murder along with one of their household staff, and I would expect them to be detained more formally in jail or in a rigorous setting that may be closer to house arrest.

  • 10:44:00

    REHMProf. Pei, what do you think the outcome of this political transition is going to be?

  • 10:44:08

    PEIWell, it's hard to say because, right now, we do not know whether change of leadership will lead to a change of policy. In the short term, it is very unlikely because the conservatives still have a lot of influence over the choice of personnel. But longer term, I would say probably the leadership transition is a sideshow. What is going to determine China's future will not be the exclusive province of seven to nine people in Beijing. It will actually be the result of massive socioeconomic, political changes in Chinese society.

  • 10:44:51

    REHMDoesn't Mr. Bo's situation sort of represent the inefficiency and inequality that now exist within China, Prof. Pei?

  • 10:45:09

    PEINo. I think the Bo Xilai case really represents the rottenness of the system at its core because this is somebody who is going to be one of the most powerful people in China. Now we know that his family is totally corrupt. He's possibly involved in a murder case or at least in the cover up of a murder case. And then that kind of person is slated to be a top leader in China. And people -- I think what this case has done for average Chinese is to completely destroy whatever confidence they have in the current system.

  • 10:45:48

    REHMBut it's interesting. You recently wrote that some of these scandals are clearly not the biggest story in China, and that there are signs of a new Tiananmen Square in China.

  • 10:46:06

    PEII guess -- well, this is a sign. But the two events are related but independent of the Bo Xilai case based on my own reading of the Chinese press these days. It's a very interesting trend. That is, you see the reemergence of discussion of very sensitive topics regarding China's future. To summarize, we can look at -- there were three points people are making. A, either they think economic reform is dead. Second, they think that the current system is probably not capable of taking China to a more prosperous peaceful and just future.

  • 10:46:52

    PEIAnd then, third, to change China's current economic problem and social problems, they need political change. So that's a very significant development in -- at least in the intellectual circles inside China.

  • 10:47:02

    REHMJim Fallows.

  • 10:47:06

    PEIIf that continues, we can now rule out another political crisis in the next five to 10-year time frame.

  • 10:47:14

    FALLOWSOne of the reasons the Bo Xilai case is so interesting, apart from its intrinsic drama of a murder mystery...

  • 10:47:19

    REHMI mean, he was in such a high position.

  • 10:47:22

    FALLOWSYes. And he was probably the only personally flamboyant, noticeable politician within China, which was part of the resistance to him by...

  • 10:47:29

    REHMThey call him a hotdog.

  • 10:47:31

    FALLOWSThey call him a hotdog, and he's been compared to Huey Long, et cetera. And so in a system that values something other than that, you know, he was very -- he created a lot of resentment from his fellow politicians. But also, all the themes of tension within modern China that Minxin Pei just mentioned do come together in this case. For example, one of Bo Xilai's main ideological points was to at least rhetorically defend those who were the losers in the dramatic Chinese economic transformation of the last 30 years.

  • 10:47:59


  • 10:48:01

    XIAOne other example to illustrate what Prof. Pei was talking about the rotten core of the system is the handling of Bo Xilai, which is extralegal. Right now, he's handled under the party disciplinary track, which is outside the law and is -- does he have a lawyer of his own choice? Is he allowed family visits? His whereabout is unknown. That's detention incommunicado. And so this is very ironic that such a powerful person who used extralegal ways to persecute those who are viewed as his political enemies, now he himself is being handled in similar (word?).

  • 10:48:52

    REHMDoug Paal.

  • 10:48:54

    PAALOne of the really interesting things about this is most of this would not have come to light if Wang Lijun, the police chief, hadn't gone to an American consulate and brought foreigners in on it. Chinese phrase is, close the door and beat the dog behind the closed doors, and they would have done that in this case. And maybe Bo Xilai would've fallen, but we would never have had this outpouring of insight under what has been corrupting the Chinese system quite so blatant in fashion.

  • 10:49:19

    PAALAnd that itself becomes an issue when they're dealing with the Chen case because now we have this American involvement in two things, highly significant in their politics. I would like to just add a thought to what Minxin Pei was saying about the pending failure of the Chinese system to address the most oppressing issues before. They talk about them, but they're not addressing them. Partly, it's because the leadership has been fractioned into interest groups that cross each other and check each other to keep things from getting decided.

  • 10:49:51

    PAALAnd, meanwhile, China's economic reforms are coming to the point, which was reached in the 1990s by Japan and the late 1990s by other countries in Southeast Asia, where applying increasing amounts of investment, capital and low cost to fix problems doesn't produce good results. And, therefore, their model for the political system, which is to oversee the application of investment and to redistribute the profits from it to their friends, will be challenge in their future. It's going to be a very big impediment to the continuation of the communist party's poor practices.

  • 10:50:23

    REHMJim Fallows.

  • 10:50:24

    FALLOWSTwo quick points. One is what we've been discussing in the past two minutes is worth bearing in mind as a corrective to the standard American political rhetoric of China as this perfect success story capable on our ways, et cetera. The other is that any point in the last 30 years, there had been roiling tensions within China about the factors that make the economic model go and the resistances and problems it's creating. But I think they're at new point now. It's actually is what my next book is about as well, I'll discuss with you in a week or two.

  • 10:50:52

    REHMAll right. And to Raleigh, N.C. Good morning, Jamie. You're on the air.

  • 10:50:59

    JAMIEHi, Diane. I love your show. And I guess the question that I have before we get to the -- all the specifics about U.S.-China relationships are, why are we so -- do we see or China -- why can't our government hold them accountable for their human rights abuses, and why are we not, as a society who defends our First Amendment rights in the U.S., why are we not rising up and protesting in front of the Chinese Embassy, for example, in Washington, D.C., letting China know what they're doing is wrong?

  • 10:51:26

    JAMIEAnd why are we so accepting all that in the diplomatic circles? I understand diplomacy has to do with same things in a way that it doesn't get people get angry, but at the same time, why are we so allowing the Chinese to do what they're doing, especially in the case of this blind dissident?

  • 10:51:42

    REHMDoug Paal.

  • 10:51:43

    PAALWell, you know, we've had a couple of recent experiences when we tried to change the way countries work, and they were relatively small, Iraq and Afghanistan. And we haven't come up with too much of a solution. China's by far the biggest we could ever take on, and so we have to be humble in our scope of ambition. At the same time, the Chinese Embassy has protesters in front of it all the time.

  • 10:52:02

    REHMAll the time.

  • 10:52:02

    PAALThere's -- whether it's over human rights or Tibetan autonomy and culture or every other issue. This is a free country, and people are there letting the Chinese know about our dissatisfaction.

  • 10:52:13

    REHMDo you think that this particular case of the blind lawyer will, in fact, spur even more protest, Renee?

  • 10:52:23

    XIAI would hope that this case will help Americans understand better the intricacy of the Chinese human rights, the situation as it played in the U.S.-China relationship. It's a very revealing case about the lack of rule of law in that country. The arbitrariness of the law, which is that (unintelligible) Wang Lijun case and Chen Guangcheng both went into a U.S. Consulate or embassy to seek personal safety, which is a very ironic image.

  • 10:52:57

    XIAYou know, imagine there's two extremes, one grassroots of farmer, the other is this powerful Chongqing police chief. They both found the only a safe place in China is the U.S. Embassy. How does that speak to the huge budget of the Chinese government to spend and maintain domestic security and stability?

  • 10:53:19

    REHMRenee Xia, she's international director for the Chinese Human Rights Defenders Network, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Renee, who's more responsible for human rights abuses, is it the national government or is it the local authorities?

  • 10:53:44

    XIAIf the local authorities carried out such abuses, it must speak to something systematically problematic in the Chinese government's political system and the legal system. The government -- central government spokesperson have maintained this line that when they're asked by visiting diplomats or human rights agencies, such as the U.N., about the situation of Chen Guangcheng for the last 19 months under illegal house arrest that Chen Guangcheng is free. Chen Guangcheng lives a normal life at home. He's too poor to travel.

  • 10:54:24

    XIAHe doesn't want visitors. Meanwhile, the press is, you know, covered with reports of him being abused, his wife being beaten and children not allowed to go to school without the company of security guards. And all such abuses that the Chinese spoke, the central government could not possibly not know it. So what does that say?

  • 10:54:49

    XIAAnd, you know, both ways would be very difficult to explain. Either they lack information -- they cannot control their country and the misbehaving of the local officials. That speaks to their incompetence. Now all they know, they turn the other way. So what does that say to their claims to build a country with respect to the rule of law?

  • 10:55:10

    REHMProf. Pei, what is the best that you could see coming out of this meeting with -- between U.S. and Chinese officials?

  • 10:55:25

    PEIChen Guangcheng -- oh, this dialogue? I do not see any substantive solutions to any problem. I think the Chen Guangcheng case would be handled very differently. But the meeting in Beijing this week will be a rather pro forma event. Even though it's important in symbolic terms, it is not going to address the underlying security, economic and political tensions within -- between the two countries.

  • 10:56:00

    REHMPretty pessimistic, Doug Paal?

  • 10:56:02

    PAALWell, I think the overall tone is probably right, which is that there's a deep mistrust between the two sides, and it pervades everything we do with each other. On the other hand, I am talking to Chinese officials who've been preparing for this visit. There are some things that -- well, not captured national attention are important to individual American companies and business sectors, which are looking for resolution of market access and other issues.

  • 10:56:25

    REHMJim Fallows.

  • 10:56:26

    FALLOWSYes. And I think -- even though I agree that nothing big is going to come at these meetings, the fact that they keep happening of a regular basis is more good than bad in keeping the relation smooth.

  • 10:56:34

    REHMJim Fallows of The Atlantic magazine, Renee Xia of Chinese Human Rights Defenders Network, Douglas Paal at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Minxin Pei, professor of government at Claremont McKenna College. Thank you all so much.

  • 10:56:58

    FALLOWSThank you.

  • 10:56:58

    XIAThank you, Diane.

  • 10:56:58

    REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.

  • 10:57:02

    ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth, Nikki Jecks, Susan Nabors and Lisa Dunn, and the engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones. Visit for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is, and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.

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