Chen: Democratic Reform in China Slow, but Irreversible

Posted May 31st, 2012 at 4:55 pm (UTC-5)
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Blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng, who recently arrived in the United States after escaping last month from house arrest in China's Shandong province, says democratic change in China is slow, but irreversible.

In his first formal public appearance at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations Thursday, Chen also called on China's government and party officials — including President Hu Jintao — to honor the country's constitution and laws. He said the problem is not the absence of laws in China, but lack of respect for those already in place.

Speaking through an interpreter, Chen said he agrees with those who say there is more than one model of democracy, and that China should not simply copy Western-style democracy.

“We also need to learn Eastern democracy – Japan, South Korea and China, what is wrong with having our own democracy? Taiwan has democracy too. I still remember … there is an ancient Chinese phrase, We learn from what is good, and what is bad we try to avoid.”

Chen, the self-taught lawyer, had angered the Chinese officials for opposing the country's strict population control laws and for helping people fight government abuses. He said international laws should play a role in China if its leadership engages in inappropriate behavior toward citizens.

Chen spent four years in jail and had been under house arrest for two more before fleeing to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing in April. The government allowed him, his wife and children to come to the U.S. to study at the New York University Law School. But his mother and other relatives remain in China and Chen expressed concern for their safety after his brother and nephew were attacked by thugs in Shandong province.