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The East is Red: Beware of icebergs

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image Emilie Tran

What started in the mid-2000s as a humanistic struggle to defend universal principles of human rights turned into a tense week-long diplomatic showdown between China and the US, and eventually has become a high-potential politicking issue in the US presidential election year. Earlier this month Chen Guangcheng captured international headlines after escaping house arrest and seeking refuge at the US embassy in Beijing before being transferred to a hospital. As of today, the human rights advocate is still waiting in the same hospital room with his wife and two children  — a de facto house arrest — for their travel documents to be issued by the Chinese authorities. This week, Chen made his second phone call into a US congressional hearing that was held to learn about the safety of Chen’s wife and children. Whereas in Mainland China the fate of Chen, of his immediate and extended family members and friends remains uncertain and rather worrisome, on the other side of the Pacific ocean, Chen’s saga has been re-appropriated by parties whose interests are of another nature, very remote indeed from the ones of the rural community Chen was defending from 1994 (his first petitioning) to 2005 (his first house arrest). In the presidential race, the Republicans are now using Chen Guangcheng to criticize the Obama administration’s handling of the case and records on human rights at large.
Since his escape, Chen has been under the spotlight of the world media, and that has been irritating many Chinese people, even among the liberal minded, who claim that for one Chen Guangcheng, China has about 12 million blind or vision-impaired citizens, and the number of disabled people could exceed 100 million in 2015. They bemoan the fact that Chen’s case has been blown out of proportion by the media that fail to raise the question of the millions of disabled Chinese who will never be under any spotlight and continue to live their miserable lives since public policies to facilitate the integration of disabled people have been very insufficient if not quasi nonexistent. For one Chen Guangcheng being granted a visa to the US, an estimated 500,000 people are currently enduring punitive detention without charge or trial, and millions are unable to access the legal system to seek redress for their grievances. Harassment, surveillance, house arrest, and imprisonment of human rights defenders are on the rise, and so is censorship of the Internet and other media. All in all, Chen Guangcheng is only the tip of the iceberg. Therefore, China’s millions of disabled and China’s millions of justice seekers are the body of a gigantic iceberg, that remains hidden under water.
Last month was the 100th anniversary of the Titanic, one of the largest and most luxurious passenger liners at the time and also considered by many to be unsinkable. But on April 15, 1915, the great ship had a fatal collision with an iceberg that the ship lookouts failed to see due to a “superior mirage” experts said. China has some resemblance with the Titanic with its huge population, cruising smoothly — unsinkable — at times where the rest of the world is struggling out of a global financial crisis. Watch out though for that iceberg on your way…

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