US Diplomat is Roughed-Up in Scuffle in Beijing

On Monday, unidentified men, many of them wearing smiley-face stickers on their jackets, shoved journalists so that they fell onto American diplomat Dan Biers as he was reading a statement in Beijing about the persecution of Chinese human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang. Biers, a deputy political counselor at the US Embassy, had to stop reading but was later able to finish.

The incident took place while Biers was standing outside Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court, where Pu’s trial is being held.

The men, almost certainly from Beijing’s Public Security Bureau or a similar unit, also interrupted a European Union delegate. Diplomats from 10 countries other than the US were on hand for the proceeding—“the capital’s biggest political trial in two years,”  according to the Wall Street Journal’s “China Real Time Report”—and many of them were also harassed.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei seemed to confirm that the goons were Chinese agents. “Public security organs in China maintain order in accordance with the law,” he said in response to the incident at the daily media briefing. “People at the scene should try to cooperate with them, instead of the other way around.” 

The Journal called the men “plainclothes thugs.” The paper was correct when it labeled the action of the Chinese police and those out of uniform “aggression.”

Biers refused to comment on the incident. State Department spokesman John Kirby responded immediately, however, saying the US was “dismayed with the physical harassment of Chinese and international observers, including journalists and diplomatic personnel outside the courthouse.”

Kirby’s words are a start, but they are hardly sufficient. The violation of an American diplomat is a violation of the US, and the State Department needs to start treating it as such.

Because there is no reciprocal action Washington can take—democracies do not beat up representatives of foreign governments—the Obama administration should start thinking of responses that would make an impression on China’s increasingly belligerent leaders. One such response would be the expulsion of a Chinese diplomat.

That may sound like an overreaction, but something needs to be done. An increasing number of observers see China’s mistreatment of foreign diplomats not as a sign of regime insecurity but as an indication of Beijing’s confidence that it can do as it wants.

The US, therefore, needs to raise the stakes before Beijing begins thinking it can get away with conduct that injures Americans—and results in more egregious violations of American sovereignty.

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