Cover Story

Double jeopardy

"Double jeopardy" Continued...

Issue: "Blind exiled brave," Aug. 10, 2013

Steven Mosher, head of the Population Research Institute and a leading outspoken critic of China’s one-child policy, calls Cohen’s accusations “a red herring.” Mosher traveled to China in 1979 as “a liberal and an atheist” to study the country’s one-child policy, and he was horrified by what he saw: forced abortions of full-term infants. 

Mosher—now a pro-life Catholic and father of nine—says Chen’s work transcends discussions of political divides: “When someone forces a woman to have an abortion … that’s not a pro-life or a pro-choice issue. It’s both. Her choice has been violated and a life has been taken.”

Still, some at NYU haven’t hesitated to pressure Chen not to make common cause with pro-life advocates: Cohen said if Chen accepted a potential offer from the conservative Witherspoon Institute, it would “diminish his stature in the U.S.” (Cohen’s office referred questions for this story to NYU spokesman Beckman, but Beckman didn’t respond to inquiries about Cohen’s statements.)

TAKING REFUGE: Chen’s brother Guangfu shows the rock wall where Chen clambered to escape at Dongshigu village in China
Associated Press/Photo by Andy Wong
TAKING REFUGE: Chen’s brother Guangfu shows the rock wall where Chen clambered to escape at Dongshigu village in China
TAKING REFUGE: Chen greets his wife and children at a Beijing hospital after his escape
U.S. Embassy Beijing Press via Getty Images
TAKING REFUGE: Chen greets his wife and children at a Beijing hospital after his escape
TAKING REFUGE: Chen arrives at NYU May 19, 2012
Associated Press/Photo by Henny Ray Abrams
TAKING REFUGE: Chen arrives at NYU May 19, 2012
Jerome Cohen
Eduardo Munoz/Reuters/Landov
Jerome Cohen
BIPARTISAN SUPPORT: Chen speaks at a press conference with Smith (left), Boehner (center), and Pelosi (right) Aug. 1, 2012.
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
BIPARTISAN SUPPORT: Chen speaks at a press conference with Smith (left), Boehner (center), and Pelosi (right) Aug. 1, 2012.
SATELLITE CAMPUS: Sexton (center left) poses with Yu Lizhong (center right), president of East China Normal University, and students at the groundbreaking ceremony for NYU in Shanghai in March 2011.
Imaginechina/AP
SATELLITE CAMPUS: Sexton (center left) poses with Yu Lizhong (center right), president of East China Normal University, and students at the groundbreaking ceremony for NYU in Shanghai in March 2011.
SATELLITE CAMPUS: Sexton (center left) poses with Yu Lizhong (center right), president of East China Normal University, and students at the groundbreaking ceremony for NYU in Shanghai in March 2011.
Xinhua/Landov
SATELLITE CAMPUS: Sexton (center left) poses with Yu Lizhong (center right), president of East China Normal University, and students at the groundbreaking ceremony for NYU in Shanghai in March 2011.
NO JUSTICE: Chen (left) meets with a victim of a forced abortion in China.
www.ChinaAid.org/AP
NO JUSTICE: Chen (left) meets with a victim of a forced abortion in China.
Chen
Shannon Stapleton/Reuters/Landov
Chen

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Jean-Philippe Beja, professor at the French Centre on Contemporary China, told the South China Morning Post: “If you appear to be siding with right extremists, it will hurt your image.”

Chen hasn’t indulged the rhetoric. He told the Sunday Morning Post in Taipei: “Left or right, as long as they’re concerned about human rights, I will collaborate with them.”

But collaborating hasn’t been easy given NYU pressure. Dennis Halpin, a former staffer for the House Foreign Affairs Committee, says he spent weeks trying to arrange for Chen to testify before the congressional committee after his arrival in the U.S. last May.

Halpin said NYU staffers only let him speak to Chen once, and they eventually told him Chen didn’t want to testify. “It was sort of ironic,” said Halpin. “This man had been held under house arrest in China. … Then he comes here, and we were thinking, ‘He’s incommunicado again.’”

Rep. Chris Smith said during a meeting in Washington, he insisted on talking with Chen alone, away from the NYU translator. The congressman said the translator eventually came back into the room and declared, “This meeting is over.”

Smith also said Chen told him NYU staffers were upset over his appearances in Washington. Though Chen didn’t testify before Congress, he did travel to Capitol Hill to meet with lawmakers.

Standing at a podium last August with Smith, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Chen told reporters: “Great cruelty has resulted from efforts to maintain social stability [in China], resulting in a situation in which there is no ethics, rule of law, or justice.”

Smith said Chen told him after the August appearance, NYU officials told him things were “not going well.” 

By spring, Chen did testify before a subcommittee of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in April, and told lawmakers about Chinese authorities’ escalating persecution of his family members still in China. (After Chen’s escape, authorities arrested his nephew on spurious charges, and sentenced him to three years’ imprisonment.) 

Chen also held up a packet of papers with a list of Chinese authorities he said were “corrupt officials” who had persecuted his family or facilitated thousands of forced abortions.

A few weeks later, Chen met with Pelosi during a series of meetings with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Bob Fu of ChinaAid translated for Chen during the meeting, and says Chen told her about tensions at NYU. 

Fu says Pelosi immediately called Cohen at NYU, and during the conversation asked Cohen if China was a threat to the school. Pelosi’s communication director didn’t return repeated requests asking the congresswoman to confirm or deny the account.

NYU spokesman Beckman says NYU staff didn’t restrict Chen’s movements or meetings over the last year, and he points to the wide range of events Chen attended across the country and overseas. Beckman also says Chen’s appearances on Capitol Hill had nothing to do with his length of stay: “Frankly, we have been puzzled and saddened to see the assistance provided to Mr. Chen characterized so incorrectly.” 

In an interview with Foreign Policy, Cohen put it more bluntly: “You shouldn’t bite the hand that feeds you.”

‘When someone forces a woman to have an abortion … that’s not a pro-life or a pro-choice issue. It’s both. Her choice has been violated and a life has been taken.’ —Steven Mosher

One of the growing realities in American academia is that China is one of the hands feeding it.

American universities have long had successful exchange programs with China and study centers in the country. But a handful of schools have opened satellites or joint campuses with other Chinese universities. 

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