Chen Guangcheng misled by his new right-wing 'friends'

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 June, 2013, 1:26am

There is abortion that has to do with a woman's right to choose. Then there is abortion that has to do with violent state-sanctioned late-term terminations and sterilisations. Blind dissident Chen Guangcheng did a great service in exposing such cruel practices by officials in Shandong as one of the worst excesses of China's one-child policy. But he and his cause are in danger of being hijacked by the right-wing evangelical Republican movement in the US. This hard-right movement's "pro-life" ideology has little to do with Chen's championship of human rights and the rule of law in China.

It is in this context that we should understand Chen's rather outlandish accusation that New York University, which has offered him a home, scholarship and other support since he landed in the US more than a year ago, kicked him out due to "unrelenting pressure" from Beijing. Chen has offered no evidence, and if the university was so ready to bow to pressure, it wouldn't have embraced one of China's most high-profile dissidents who caused a major diplomatic incident by seeking refuge at the US embassy in Beijing after escaping from house arrest.

Chen is being wooed intensely by right-wing groups such as the Christian group China Aid, headed by a Chinese immigrant pastor called Bob Fu, a man with close ties to right-wing politicians and pro-life ideologues in the US. The Witherspoon Institute, a conservative think tank opposed to stem cell research, same-sex marriage and abortion, has reportedly offered Chen a position. I don't know if Chen has any coherent view on abortion rights and laws in the US, or whether he understands the highly charged ideological debate, something very difficult for non-Americans to comprehend. But because of his anti-abortion stance in China, he must seem like the perfect catch for these right-wing groups, which have publicised Chen's charges against NYU. Such groups link abortion with godlessness. With Chen on their side, they can connect these abominations with communist dictatorship.

Chen is caught in a classic dilemma for dissidents. Once exiled, they lose their effectiveness, not least by being mired in the domestic politics of the host country, which they scarcely understand.