Dissident in US embassy is 'perfect storm' for Chinese

President sends envoy to Beijing ahead of Clinton visit to limit fallout from Chen affair

Beijing

Washington was yesterday scrambling to limit possible damage to the US-China relationship ahead of a long-scheduled visit to Beijing by Hillary Clinton, after a Chinese dissident who escaped house arrest took shelter in the US embassy in Beijing.

Analysts warned that the apparent flight of Chen Guangcheng into the arms of US consular officials in Beijing will present an awkward dilemma for Washington and risks further complicating already fraught ties between the two powers. Several other critics of the government accused of helping him in his daring escape have been rounded up by the Chinese security police.

It adds to the "perfect storm" that was already gathering because of hints by Washington that it may sell fighter jets to Taiwan, said Chris Johnson, a former CIA China analyst. It also comes after the recent purging of the popular provincial communist chief, Bo Xilai, after one of his aides took refuge in a US consulate in Chengdu.

"For the conspiracy-minded in Beijing, and there are plenty of them, they will see these things as completing the circle of a US containment strategy designed to stifle China's rise," said Mr Johnson, now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "This could be the biggest bilateral mess that we've faced in a very long time."

Despite the new flap the annual high-level talks due to begin in Beijing on Thursday will go ahead, an official with the State Department said. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will lead a delegation of US officials, including the US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. The Assistant Secretary of State, Kurt Campbell, was dispatched yesterday to try to contain any last-minute crisis due to the Chen affair.

There has been no official comment from the US on the whereabouts of Mr Chen, a legal expert put under house arrest after being released from prison in 2010 for accusing China of conducting late-term abortions and sterilisations as part of its one-child policy. However, the Texas-based Christian human rights group, ChinaAid, said he was in the US compound in Beijing.

"This is a pivotal moment," said Bob Fu, president of ChinaAid. "The Obama administration must stand firmly with him (Chen) or risk losing credibility as a defender of freedom."

White House aide John Brennan said yesterday he was confident President Obama would find a way to keep the Chen affair from derailing relations. "The President tries to balance our commitment to human rights, making sure that the people throughout the world have the ability to express themselves freely... but also that we can continue to carry out our relationships with key countries overseas," he told Fox News.

A Chinese ministry source suggested that his government is anxious not to jeopardise the talks. "It's too important to China," he said. "They will separate out Chen from the dialogue. China really needs this dialogue... because the relationship with the United States is extremely important to China and this is a sign of commitment and even of friendship."

He added: "I predict that if Chen is in the embassy then he won't get out for years. But it will merely be an irritant to the Chinese. They won't do anything in retaliation. They will compartmentalise it from the far more important issues there are between China and the US."

Mr Chen's case echoes that of Fang Lizhi, a dissident who sought refuge in the US embassy following the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. He spent a year in the US embassy before being allowed to leave for America.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Nick Clegg on the campaign trail in Glasgow on Wednesday; he says education is his top priority
peopleNick Clegg remains optimistic despite dismal Lib Dem poll ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Déjà vu: David Tennant returns to familiar territory with Anna Gunn (‘Breaking Bad’)
tvReview: Something is missing in Gracepoint, and it's not just the familiar names
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
News
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
science
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
  • 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

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Accounts Office Administrator

£15000 - £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The ideal candidates will have ...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer

£22000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing boutique prac...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?