Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng made international waves last year with his high profile exposure of the abuses within China’s one-child-policy. After a movie like escape from his home (where he was under house arrest), Chen was allowed to move to the US to study at New York University. This serves as an example of the role of private entities play in contemporary public diplomacy.
While the US government clearly negotiated for the release of Chen, NYU played an integral role in sponsoring the dissident for one year. With the end of Chen’s position at NYU, however, the university is criticized by some for a perceived lack of corporate social responsibility. Those critics cite that NYU may be concerned about profits tied to a planned campus expansion in Shanghai.
The New York Post criticized NYU’s decision, saying the institution is guilty of bowing to Chinese pressures, stating:
NYU isn’t letting a pesky thing like human rights stand in the way of its expansion in China. The university has booted a blind Chinese political dissident from its campus under pressure from the Communist government as it builds a coveted branch in Shanghai, sources told The Post.
A recent Al-Jazeera article cites NYU sources claiming the two issues of the Shanghai campus and Chen’s leave are unrelated.
Cohen [Chen’s professor and mentor] rejected the charge, saying he “never heard a word” – even from Chinese diplomats – linking Chen’s case to the Shanghai campus.”No political refugee, even Albert Einstein, has received better treatment by an American academic institution than that received by Chen from NYU,” he said.
Since NYU openly declared Chen’s term would last for a single year, the university has completed its end of the bargain and remains an example of high profile public diplomacy involving the private sector.
Katrina Trost is a Master of Political Science candidate at Boston University with a focus on the Middle East, democratic development and security.