Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

China activist addresses think-tank

Chen Guangcheng is helped to the stage by his wife, Yuan Weijung, before speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York (AP)

The blind Chinese legal activist who escaped years of house arrest and reached the US after a diplomatic stand-off has made his first extended public appearance in New York.

He said his country will only reach its potential when citizens stop tolerating lawlessness among their leaders.

Chen Guangcheng told an audience at the Council on Foreign Relations, an international affairs think-tank, that China is moving toward becoming a more democratic society, but his lengthy detention demonstrates that lawlessness is still the norm.

The 40-year-old was under house arrest in his rural village for seven years before escaping. He said that even after the Chinese government promised to investigate the circumstances of his captivity and let him leave the country with his wife and children on May 19, thugs working for local officials severely beat his relatives who stayed behind.

"Is there any justice? Is there any rationale in any of this?" Mr Chen said. But he said the era of covering up illegal behaviour by government officials is quickly coming to an end. Modern communications systems make it impossible for anyone to keep a secret, he added.

"It's gotten to the point in China where, if you don't want something known, you'd better not do it."

He advocated for a combination of vigilance and a little patience. "As long as they are beginning to move in the right direction, we should affirm it," he said.

"Many people, they want to move the mountain in one week," he added. "That's not realistic. We have to move it bit by bit. You can't expect it to happen overnight."

Mr Chen escaped his guards in April, breaking his foot in the effort, and sought refuge in the US embassy in Beijing.

Mr Chen said he was unaware at the time that US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was about to arrive in China for high-level diplomatic discussions. "That was a total coincidence," he said.

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