How the Obama Administration’s Narrative About Chen Guangcheng Unraveled, One Tweet at a Time
When Chen Guangcheng departed the U.S. Embassy in Beijing on Wednesday with apparent guarantees that he would lead a safe and productive life in his native land, it seemed that a major international crisis had been averted. In a startlingly short period of time, American and Chinese officials had hammered out an agreement that seemed to protect Chen, while preserving the bilateral relationship. Chinese state media reported that Chen left on his own “volition,” while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Chen’s departure from the Embassy was in keeping with American “values.” Not long after, the U.S. Embassy released happy photos of a proud-looking Chen grasping the hand of a U.S. official. It was even reported that Chen, apparently overwhelmed with gratitude, declared that he wanted to “kiss” Secretary Clinton.
Once upon a time, that would have sufficed to shape the public narrative of the crisis negotiations between China and the United States, at least for a while. Clearly, those days are over. On Wednesday, the governments’ preferred story quickly unraveled in the face of statements by Chen’s friends via Twitter. Beijing and Washington may have become accustomed to an air of privileged secrecy around their dealings, but Twitter’s expanding role in China is making that harder than ever to maintain.