Opinion: Still no rule of law in China | World| Breakings news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 05.05.2012
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Opinion: Still no rule of law in China

China and the US have resolved one of their most serious crises so far. The case of Chen Guangcheng shows that they can manage conflicts - but also, that China is a long way from rule of law, says DW's Matthias von Hein.

It first looked like a grand victory for US diplomacy – then, like a nightmare for Hillary Clinton. And finally, there seems to be a solution for the Chen Guangcheng case: travelling to the US for studying at a university.

The last days have shown that also this latest development should be taken with caution. It remains to be seen whether China's green light to the plan will hold. On Friday, a spokesman for China's foreign minister, Liu Weimin said: "If he wants to study abroad, as a Chinese citizen, he can apply through normal channels in accordance with the law, just like any other Chinese citizen."

It seems the Chinese Foreign Ministry indeed wants to get the Chen case off the table, and it appears to be more willing to compromise in matters of international diplomacy than some other parts of the government in Beijing. The Foreign Ministry is, however, not seen as particularly powerful within the government, and it could well be that some hardliners in the Interior Ministry will still put the brakes on the deal.

Matthias Von Hein

DW's China expert Matthias von Hein

But still, currently it looks like the worst crisis since the collision of an American spy plane with a Chinese fighter jet in 2001 has been solved. This is significant in a year that will see presidential elections in the US and a change of leadership in China. Both sides are nervous and the rhetoric is somewhat edgier than usual. It's a testimony to the professionalism of both sides that they've found a solution despite the mounting pressure, and their talks have also made progress on a number of other global issues – such as the crisis in Syria, North Korea's nuclear program, Iran and the territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

The Chen case, however, also shows the problems that the world's new economic giant China still has to solve at its very core: the rule of law. It can not be stressed too much, that the house arrest that Chen Guangcheng espcaped from to the US embassy is illegal – also according to Chinese law. The government in Beijing doesn't seem to be able to implement the country's law in Chen's home province on Shandong.

Why else could it be that the activist's village is still surrounded by unofficial guards who threaten force against any outsiders trying to get there. Why else could it be that Chinese security staff have brutally beaten up Chen supporters at the Chaoyang hospital in Beijing. Why else would the Chinese authorities have needed to offer Chen to move to a "safer environment" in a different province? It's as if he was in a witness protection program on the run from organized crime – when after all it's only the governing Communist party that he's having trouble with.

The party is in a dilemma: Some of the leading figures have realized that they need the rule of law in order to properly govern the country. But many also fear the law, as it would curtail their power. In the Chen case it's too early yet to say who will prevail. But this time the world will be watching – and that will give hope to the blind man with the broken foot in the Beijing hospital.

Author: Matthias von Hein / ai
Editor: Spencer Kimball

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