Head of State: Hillary Clinton, the blind dissident, and the art of diplomacy in the Twitter era

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Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton sat down on a plush yellow couch at the J.W. Marriott late on a
Saturday morning in early May. The Beijing skyline sparkled,
uncharacteristically sunny and smog-free, out the window of her 23rd-floor
suite, and she was wearing sunglasses even though we were indoors, “an eye
infection,” she said apologetically. Clinton seemed surprisingly upbeat,
especially considering that just a day earlier, she had come uncomfortably
close to a major public rebuff by the Chinese — much closer, in fact, than anyone
yet realized. “It was a standoff,” she told me, “for 24 difficult hours.”

Until our conversation, Clinton
had said virtually nothing publicly about the case of Chen Guangcheng, the
blind Chinese dissident whose fate had become the object of a week of frenetic
negotiations when his escape from village house arrest to the U.S. Embassy
collided with a visit to Beijing by Clinton herself. Amid the unfolding drama,
the secretary had smiled and nodded her way through elaborately choreographed
high-level annual talks and a variety of photo ops at which she gamely recited
paeans to constructive dialogue and plugged cut-rate cookstoves for the
developing world.

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