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Special Report

Diplomatic tussle over blind Chinese activist

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," April 30, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Obviously, I'm aware of the press reports on the situation in China, but I'm not going to make a statement on the issue.

What I would like to emphasize is that every time we meet with China, the issue of human rights comes up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, HOST: And they will be meeting with China. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner heading to China actually tonight to meet with officials there, this as 40-year-old dissident, a blind activist named Cheng Guangcheng, is reportedly at the U.S. embassy in Beijing.

He escaped house arrest with the help of supporters last week, and he has been vocal about China's "one child" policy, forcing women to undergo late-term abortions or sterilization. This obviously puts the U.S. in an interesting diplomatic place ahead of these meetings.

What about this? We're back with the panel. Steve?

STEVE HAYES, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, I understand the administration's impulse here to proceed cautiously. I mean, obviously, (INAUDIBLE) high stakes issues. Some people have said that not since Tiananmen Square have we had to deal on these -- with these kinds of human rights issues with China.

However, I don't think there's anything wrong with making general statements in support of his cause. They've done so in the past. And the administration, I think, has some making up to do.

You remember, in February of 2009, Hillary Clinton came in to office as secretary of state and said, in effect, we are going to place human rights second on the agenda. We don't want it to interfere with global climate change issues, the economic crisis, things of this nature. And then later, you had Joe Biden say that he understands China's "one child" policy.

Now, they've gone back and forth a bit. Other administration figures, including Hillary Clinton, later gave speeches that were tougher on human rights issues. But I think they have some making up to do. And I would say, at the very least, they should be offering some statements supportive of the cause that he's championing.

BAIER: Senator Lindsey Graham and others now are speaking out, saying Cheng's cause should be our cause and that the U.S. should protect his safety and the safety of his family. A.B., what about this?

A.B. STODDARD, THEHILL.COM: Well, first of all, we don't know if he is being protected by U.S. officials right now. And I think as the secretary of state arrives there tonight or tomorrow morning and gets into these very tense discussions...

BAIER: Well, hold on. Let's just say a fellow dissident has been quoted as saying he's at the U.S. embassy and that he met with U.S. ambassador Gary Locke. So that's where we are.

STODDARD: Well...

BAIER: Whether you believe that or not is one thing, but that's where we are.

STODDARD: If that's confirmed, that's -- that's going to be -- that's going to have an implication for us that will be different than if we find out he's actually on a flight. There are other rumors about where he might be.

Obviously, if we're protecting him at the embassy in Beijing, that's going to be a big issue for the Chinese. They're going to see it as leverage when they meet to talk about other things with Secretary Geithner and Secretary Clinton.

I think that President Obama struggles, as most presidents do, to champion human rights and at the same time, balance a rising China that is different in 2012 than it might have been in 2004 and it might be in 2016.

And Mitt Romney's been very casual with his criticisms of President Obama's China policy, saying that we need to confront the government's "one child" policy, the denial of political liberties, violation of human rights. He wants to designate them currency manipulators.

It's not going to be as easy for him as he thinks. And if he's president next year, he's going to have to manage the same ties with China. We need a diplomatic relationship with them to deal with Iran, Syria, many other issues, North Korea. And it's becoming increasingly challenging because of their economic strength.

BAIER: Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: We did have a president who shows how you balance on the one hand negotiations and the championing of human rights and everything that we believe in. That was Ronald Reagan.

He conducted negotiations with the Soviets. He -- a stand down, essentially, in the Cold War with Gorbachev, while at the same time unashamedly, unabashedly and without hesitation denouncing the evil empire and its evil deeds. And he worked extremely hard to get a lot of dissidents out of the Soviet Union.

We had the -- the President Obama's terrorism adviser, John Briant -- O'Brian...

BAIER: Brennan.

KRAUTHAMMER: ... Brennan, talking about having a balanced approach to the crisis now in the U.S. embassy in China. What -- what does that mean, "a balanced approach"? It should be an unbalanced approach. We ought to denounce the harassment of him, his wife and child, who've been harassed and beaten over this issue, at the same time (INAUDIBLE) I don't think it's impossible to do. And I think the Reagan way is the way to go.

I think Obama, particularly after he's released -- and inevitably, he's going to end up here, having political asylum -- we ought to speak out strongly on his behalf and on behalf of his issues.

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