U.S. will have a say in China's future, whether it wants to or not
Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng, center, shakes hands last week with Gary Locke, U.S. ambassador to China.
May 9th, 2012
01:25 PM ET

U.S. will have a say in China's future, whether it wants to or not

By Gordon G. Chang, Special to CNN

Editor’s Note: Gordon G. Chang is a columnist at Forbes.com. He is the author of “The Coming Collapse of China” and “Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes On the World.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Gordon G. Chang.

The drama surrounding Chen Guangcheng highlights — again — America’s role as refuge for Chinese citizens.

Late last month, the blind activist, after a request for protection, entered the U.S. embassy in Beijing, smuggled in under the noses of Chinese security agents.

By taking him in, the U.S. had chosen sides in the increasingly volatile confrontation between the Chinese people and China’s Communist Party. Washington, by its actions, had implicitly stated that the rights of citizens were more important than the sovereignty of the People’s Republic. It was a blatant interference in China’s internal affairs — and it was the right thing to do.

Moreover, Washington revealed how weak the Chinese regime is by getting it to extend guarantees of Chen’s safety. In short, Beijing, after negotiations with a foreign government, made agreements relating to its treatment of one of its own nationals on its own soil.

True, Chinese officials violated those promises almost as soon as they were made. But the fact that Beijing extended guarantees was stunning in and of itself. After all, Renmin University’s Jin Canrong, just days before the Chinese government issued the “four assurances,” said it was “absolutely impossible” for Beijing to guarantee Chen’s safety.

The United States, therefore, helped Chen lift the fear that has prevented change in Chinese society. His flight to the heart of Communist power  demonstrated that people have started to lose their fear of the party. In fact, many of those who helped in the “great escape” publicized their roles, showing a defiance rarely seen since the Beijing Spring of 1989.

Authoritarian governments crumble when citizens no longer feel intimidated. As journalist Fred Coleman noted about the Soviet Union, “Once the fear was gone, the system could not last.”

None of this is to say that the U.S. is seeking to end China’s current form of government. It is to say, however, that its actions, occurring at a time of great societal stress, can irrevocably change the Chinese political system.

The U.S. did not seek out Chen. Chen, through his supporters, presented the U.S. with a situation to which it had to respond. Either decision — to help or not — would substantially alter the course of events.

Watch: The importance of Chen Guangcheng

Chen’s supporters followed the playbook of Wang Lijun. At the beginning of February, the Chinese official entered the U.S. consulate in the Sichuan capital of Chengdu, seeking refuge from his boss, Bo Xilai, then the Communist Party secretary of Chongqing.

Bo, to prevent Wang from getting away, sent hundreds of armed security troops across provincial lines to surround the consulate. They failed in this task because agents of the Ministry of State Security took custody instead and accompanied him back to Beijing.

Washington did not grant protection to Wang. But by refusing to take him in, it unwittingly precipitated a crisis that now looks like it has split the top of the Communist Party.

Wang’s allegations, made in Beijing, triggered a series of events: certainly a purge of the charismatic Bo; the detention of his wife on charges of murder; and possibly a coup and assassination attempt in Zhongnanhai, the Communist Party headquarters in the center of Beijing. The consequences of Washington’s decision to not take in Wang have now roiled China and jeopardized the transition from the so-called Fourth Generation leaders, led by General Secretary Hu Jintao, to the Fifth Generation, presumably under the command of Vice President Xi Jinping.

Again, the U.S. was put in a position where a decision would — one way or another — affect the outcome of a defining struggle inside China. And it is unlikely that China’s people or its officials will stop looking to America for assistance, refuge and support. As Chinese society becomes even more turbulent, Washington will have a large role in determining China’s future, whether it wants that role or not.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Gordon G. Chang.

Topics: China

soundoff (33 Responses)
  1. Nianfu Song

    My reading is different from the reasoning or imagination of the author. Interesting to know different opinions though

    May 9, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      What a load of nonsense: "The consequences of Washington’s decision to not take in Wang have now roiled China and jeopardized the transition" of power in the coming autumn.
      The author exaggerated, when he stated, "Washington will have a large role in determining China’s future, whether it wants that role or not". Does he expect the U.S. send the Seal Team 6 to China to get Chen out? Unfortunately if China's Ministry of State Security can't protect him, the local agents would teach him a lesson for having tarnished the country's image abroad.

      May 9, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Reply
      • Maersk

        Calm down please! Gorgon Chang actually wanted to write, "Kowk Zuckers in Washington will have a large roll in determining the height of Chinese' erection by manipulating their kwok zucking mouth".

        May 10, 2012 at 9:36 am |
      • j. von hettlingen

        @Maersk, I might not agree with Gordon Chang, but your offensive language is even more disturbing.

        May 10, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
      • Maersk

        Would you rather I call those kwok zucking kwok zuckers as thugs and goons then?

        May 10, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
      • San Tron


        中國未來戰爭對象 – 可能性

        美國 – 90%

        日本 – 80%

        越南 – 70%

        印度 – 60%

        菲律賓 – 40%


        May 15, 2012 at 2:16 am |
  2. That'snotTrue={

    Ummm... the US was forced to act because of Chen. Taking him looking on the CNN forums seems to create more problems for the US actually...a lot of people don't want him to go to the US who are citizens of America. While for China, it's one problem less.
    So why don't America also take Ai Wei Wei and the other "activists"? There is a difference between the real ones making a change and them. So why don't the US take all of them if it wants a say in China's internal affairs!!! ^.^

    May 9, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Reply
  3. LOL

    Gordan Chang is mad. His predicts "the coming collapse of china" every year since 1998.

    Dude needs to take some med, now.

    May 9, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Reply
    • Home

      Gordon Chang is a joke and an idiot. He has been claiming the "collapse" of China for over a decade. Everytime the suppose deadline arrives, he mades excuses why the "collapse" has not arrived. All that fool is doing is trying to make a name for himself and trying to sell a few books.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:05 am | Reply
  4. George Patton

    Let's all hope that the U.S. doesn't have too much of a say in China's future. The last thing the world needs is to have the right-wing thugs in Washington mess things up in China like they already did in much of the rest of the world. If that comes to pass, the world will fall into the biggest depression ever, something like Europe did after the fall of the Roman Empire!!!

    May 9, 2012 at 7:10 pm | Reply
    • Warren

      Well put, George.

      May 10, 2012 at 7:21 am | Reply
      • Patrick

        I agree with you both.

        May 10, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
      • Patrick

        I did not make this statement.
        The more you harass us, the more we show your sorry as sed comments to be most mo ron nic.
        We are not going away ever.
        Keep harassing us so that we keep our resolve to make you look like the lo sers you are and always will be.

        May 10, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
  5. dongszkie

    can the us sustain chinas effort to undermine the us government in so many varied ways and in all front???and in tandem w/ putins russia?

    May 9, 2012 at 8:33 pm | Reply
  6. ✠ RZ ✠

    Message to China; The Olympics ? Amazing ! Being able to reasonably manage a large nation with over a billion people ? Unfreakin believable ! Keeping your cool despite all the bs going on everywhere ? Admirable ! Trying to mind your own business and maintain common sense as well as some pride and pariotism ? Well done ! Executing a moron who caused the death of a lot of babies with his messed up formula ?? Well, maybe a little over the top. Anyhow, keep working on the corruption, try to ease up a bit on the tight internet and information control, learn how to take a joke and roll with the punches, and for goodness sakes take a better stand on issues like Syria ! Oh yes, ease up on that population growth will ya. The rest of the world is not gonna keep on buying all your stuff forever ya know !

    May 9, 2012 at 9:21 pm | Reply
  7. Matt A.

    He stated almost eight months ago that China was going to collapse by December 2011. With former bureaucrats setting up residence in Hong Kong and the US, time isn't on China's side–for any aspect of business.

    But that could be said for America,too.

    It's a little late for the Chinese to make an example of Chen since the world is watching.

    They should allow him to emigrate to save face and shorten media attention .

    May 9, 2012 at 10:06 pm | Reply
  8. johnny

    I dont think it is coreect to say the US is changing China (in anything). This transformation of China's internal politics is the result of better living standard in China and a new era of an knowledge based younger generation.

    Yes, there are still poor people in the rurual states just like there are 15% Americans who are living in abject poverty inside USA. But overall Chinese people are having higher income and more quality life than before.; More Chinese youths are getting top education and skills development – and are also well connected to social medias.

    In short the social politico scenario is China is set to change not because USA made it happen, but because of all the positive self developments in China. America is a bad role model for any country – both economically and politically.

    China socio-political metamophoris is simply a natural progression – from a giant that has been in economic and political coma for decades – into becoming the most progressive country in the 21st century..

    May 9, 2012 at 10:23 pm | Reply
  9. Stop your LIES!

    LOL is correct. Gordon Chang is a sensationalist who profits from exaggerations. He had been predicting the fall of China for years now. Every year, he had to eat his words with more predictions that fail to materialized. Gordon Chang just wants to sell more of his garbage books to dummies.

    May 9, 2012 at 11:25 pm | Reply
    • Maersk

      In case you don't know, Gordon Chang is just a typical American kwok zucking kwok zucker employed as writer to bad mouth China. Had he focused on zucking the Chinese kwoks, it would have been perfectly OK to the Chinese.

      May 10, 2012 at 9:18 am | Reply
  10. jimmy

    Gordon knew nothing about China and just BS to get paid.

    May 10, 2012 at 12:42 am | Reply
  11. Lee

    Why ? My Question is Why ? USA humiliated China in last century because China was week . Where was your human right ? But now China is progressing , thats why USA will have say . Everyone will have to be like us . In case of difference from USA , you are uncivilized . This tendency must be rejected . American vaunt has been ended unofficially . Try to learn how to Respect everyone.

    May 10, 2012 at 5:36 am | Reply
    • Patrick

      Well put, Lee. Thank you.

      May 10, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Reply
    • Patrick

      I did not make this statement.
      The more you harass us, the more we show your sorry as sed comments to be most mo ron nic.
      We are not going away ever.
      Keep harassing us so that we keep our resolve to make you look like the lo sers you are and always will be.
      Keep up the good work as s wipe.

      May 10, 2012 at 8:04 pm | Reply
  12. Travis

    Quite right, Lee. We need to do that.

    May 10, 2012 at 7:22 am | Reply
  13. LOL

    This guy maybe has never been to China before? Why all this focus on one dissent when we have so much dissidence in our own country???
    Trying to slander other countries while our own is falling apart?
    People losings jobs pensions ect ect but still we have so much time to judge others!

    May 10, 2012 at 6:54 pm | Reply
  14. jackinbox

    Gordon's only qualification to talk about China is a pair of slanted eyes that see everything slanted at a distance. Just another slanty eyed slanderer

    May 10, 2012 at 7:06 pm | Reply
    • Home

      Gordon Chang is not a full blood Chinese. He is a typical American with multiple ethnic backgrounds.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:14 am | Reply
  15. moraima simon


    May 10, 2012 at 11:17 pm | Reply
  16. Kailim

    I believe the priority of any government should be its domestic issues, if it is by, for and of the people of its own nation. It is obvious that the US government pays too much efforts on foreign affairs diplomatically anf militarily. Is it good for the American people or not?

    May 11, 2012 at 1:33 am | Reply
  17. Ekram

    Never heard of this moron Gordon Chang! His opinion and views of China are so absurd. Any way, there is no need for interfering in China's internal matters.....USA or any country. Chinese society is progressing well with increasing standard of living and systemic freedom. Don't forget overnight "prestoika" in Soviet Union that brought chaos and too much hardships to its citizen.....and after all these years they are still suffering! China is smart to do all this in a more structured manner to avoid Soviet style chaos. Well done China......keep up the good work!

    May 11, 2012 at 11:31 pm | Reply
  18. JMorcan

    "His flight to the heart of Communist power demonstrated that people have started to lose their fear of the party."

    The heart of communist power?? He fled to the **U.S. embassy.** There are so many errors and unfounded conclusions in this artice, I fail to understand how it could meet CNNs standards for journalism. A total waste of time.

    May 13, 2012 at 2:48 am | Reply
  19. www.GiocondaLaw.com

    If the US has so much say about Chinese policy, why is there so much rampant Chinese counterfeiting and piracy?

    May 26, 2012 at 6:11 pm | Reply
  20. Steve

    Wow, the chinese must be all kinds of angry to have so many propagandists (and better ones than usual) chase these stories around CNN. Some even have convincing American sounding names, but alas they are with Chinese intelligence.

    June 6, 2012 at 9:27 pm | Reply

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