Activist Chen Guangcheng wants to leave China

 

The Obama administration's diplomatic predicament deepened Thursday when a blind Chinese legal activist who took refuge in the American Embassy told the US he now wants to go abroad, rejecting a deal that was supposed to keep him safely in China.

Only hours after Chen Guangcheng left the embassy for a hospital checkup and reunion with his family, he began telling friends and foreign media they feel threatened and want to go abroad. At first taken aback at the reversal, the State Department said officials spoke twice by phone with Chen and met with his wife, with both affirming their desire to leave.

"They as a family have had a change of heart about whether they want to stay in China," department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.

Nuland stopped short of saying whether Washington would try to reopen negotiations to get Chen abroad should Beijing agree. "We need to consult with them further to get a better sense of what they want to do and consider their options," Nuland said.

Chen's still unresolved fate threatens to erode already shaky trust between Washington and Beijing at a time both governments are trying to contain their ever sharper jostling for influence around the world. His case hovered over today's opening of two-day talks on global political and economic hotspots led by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and their Chinese counterparts.

A self-taught lawyer, the 40-year-old Chen spent most of the last seven years in prison or under house arrest in what was seen as retribution by local authorities for his advocacy against forced abortions and other official misdeeds. His wife, daughter and mother were confined at home with him, enduring beatings, searches and other mistreatment.

Chen remained in the hospital, its grounds ringed by a noticeable police presence, making it unclear how his exit could be arranged, and receiving medical tests.

His escape from house arrest to the fortress-like US Embassy last week inserted Washington in the center of a human rights case, always a testy issue for Beijing, and at the same potentially embarrassed Chinese leaders that it is unable to protect its own citizens.

Chen's goal, he told US officials, was to secure the safety of his family and remain in China. Under painstaking arrangements negotiated over days, Chen was to be reunited with his family and relocated outside his home province to a university town where he could formally study law.

But later, in the hospital, Chen felt abandoned by the US, finding no embassy staff had stayed behind to assure his protection. His wife, who along with his daughter and a son who has been raised by relatives in recent years were staying with him, began describing the beatings she received once his escape became known. Chen said he changed his mind, fearing for their safety if they remained in China.

US Ambassador Gary Locke defended the arrangements at a news conference today and said "unequivocally" that Chen was never pressured to leave. Locke said Chen left the embassy after talking twice on the telephone with his wife, who was waiting at the hospital.

"It may not be everything that they would like or want, but this is a good proposal and we should take the first step," Locke said.

It's unclear whether China would be willing to negotiate further over Chen's fate. The government already has expressed anger that the US harbored a Chinese activist. Beijing sees as its right the authority to restrict the movements of Chinese citizens, and the Foreign Ministry reiterated its displeasure Thursday, calling the affair meddling in Chinese domestic matters.

The diplomatic dispute over Chen is sensitive for the Obama administration, which risks appearing soft on human rights during an election year or looking as though it rushed to resolve Chen's case ahead of the strategic talks Clinton opened.

Clinton said in a speech that China must protect human rights, rejecting Beijing's criticism of the US for getting involved in Chen's case.

China's President Hu Jintao told the gathering that China and the United States "must know how to respect each other" even if they disagree.

"Given our different national conditions, it is impossible for both China and the United States to see eye to eye on every issue," he said in the only part of the opening ceremony that was broadcast on state television. "We should properly manage the differences by improving mutual understanding so these differences will not undermine the larger interests of China-US relations."

Should Beijing agree to negotiate, among the issues that would have to be worked out if Chen leaves China is whether he would go as a visiting scholar — an indication his stay would be temporary — and whether China would let him return. The government has at times revoked the passports of dissidents abroad, rendering them stateless.

A delay in figuring out how to help Chen may also undercut the US bargaining power. Pressure for a resolution would subside once Clinton leaves China on Saturday.

AP

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...