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By Mo Nong|
'Dissident's plea for protection from China deepens crisis," declared a headline in the New York Times.
By "dissident", it referred to Chen Guangcheng, a blind man from East China's Shandong province who provided legal advice to those allegedly victimized by improper enforcement of family planning policies, though few in this country would address him that way.
Actually few would have heard of him until a couple of days ago. The paper's report identifying Chen as "one of China's most prominent dissidents", therefore, will no doubt come as an enlightening revelation to most people here.
But it will not be that big a surprise. After all, most of the Chinese "dissidents" who have become Western heroes have rocketed to prominence from oblivion, only to fall back into obscurity when they were no longer of any use to the West.
Although they are yet to complete the very last step on their agenda - visiting the United States and getting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama personally involved - Chen and his helpers have been quite successful in internationalizing him.
No matter how true his stories are, Chen has managed to hide himself under American wings and become what the New York Times called a "crisis" during the all-important Strategic and Economic Dialogue between his country and the US in Beijing.
Chen's smartly timed plea for US protection has served him well. He has got the attention he wanted, and is asking for more.
But at the same time he is holding one of the world's most important relationships hostage as he has become a tricky sideline issue for high officials from both countries who were on a tight schedule comparing notes on the big picture of bilateral ties.
Meanwhile, he has become a political tool on the campaign trail in the US. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is already using Chen to attack Obama, blatantly accusing the Obama administration of failing to reach beyond US soil to protect a non-American.
So, if protection is what Chen feels he needs, that could be the place to go, should his long-time lawyering enable him to sweet talk his new friends.
But to what extent should Chen's ambitions matter to the two countries and their way of dealing with each other? That is the real question to be answered, both in Beijing and Washington.
Such stories as Chen's can easily be blown out of proportion if they suit a purpose. In reality, Chen's stories, even if all true, reveal little more than abusive policy implementation at the hands of some grassroots officials. Something Beijing has been determinedly striving to address, a challenging task considering the vast extent of the world's most populous country.
By resorting to American "protection", Chen has successfully blown a minor complaint completely out of proportion and made it prominent between decision-makers in both capitals, especially at a time when Clinton was shaking hands with Chinese leaders.
Human rights are no small matter. And any verifiable allegations, including any of Chen's, deserve proper redress.
But is it appropriate to let one person's story dictate the course of the ties between two countries?
Neither country will benefit if decision-makers from the two countries let the dramatic one-man show distract and derail their efforts to anchor their volatile state-to-state relations.
The author is a senior writer with China Daily.
(China Daily 05/05/2012 page5)