Mystery of dissident's fate casts shadow over Clinton's visit to Beijing



Diplomatic tensions over the fate of Chen Guangcheng – the dissident allegedly hiding out at the American consulate in Beijing – cast an ever-lengthening shadow over upcoming talks between Beijing and Washington yesterday as both sides continued to refuse to publicly discuss the issue.

Mr Chen, who escaped from house arrest last week, has become a taboo subject between the nations ahead of high-level strategic and economic talks due to begin in Beijing tomorrow.

The US President, Barack Obama, refused to directly comment on the case at a news conference. He instead called on China to improve its human rights record and said the two countries' relationship "will be that much stronger and China will be that much more prosperous and strong as you see improvements on human rights issues in that country".

The US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, who left for Beijing on Monday to attend the talks on currency, trade and market access with the Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner, also refused to be drawn on Mr Chen's case. The Assistant Secretary of State, Kurt Campbell, had arrived in Beijing ahead of Ms Clinton to try to work out an agreement on the Chen case.

China is the world's second largest economy and is matching that with growing diplomatic muscle, not to mention its status as an invaluable trading partner and source of crucial investment in Treasury bonds for the US. Gone are the days when the US could make its feelings about China's activities clear, as it did when it halted trade after the brutal crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators, culminating in the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

But Mr Obama must also appear strong in the face of Republican pressure to protect Mr Chen, without harming trade relations.

There is speculation that Mr Chen will be allowed to leave China with his wife and child. However, Mr Chen, a 40-year-old self-taught lawyer who angered authorities with his critical research on the brutal rural implementation of China's one-child policy, has insisted that he wants to stay in China and campaign for reform.

Allowing him to go into exile would be a face-saving measure for all concerned. Mr Chen was convicted and jailed for four years in 2006, officially on traffic charges. Since his release in 2010, local authorities have kept him under house arrest, without any charges laid against him, and have regularly assaulted him, his family and visitors.

According to activists, police reportedly acknowledged over the weekend that Mr Chen did not break any laws by escaping from house arrest, or by apparently entering the US embassy.

A speedy resolution to the matter is in Beijing's interest. The Communist Party is preparing for a crucial leadership transition later in the year and it is trying to contain other politically destabilising issues, such as the scandal involving former Chongqing Party chief Bo Xilai and the apparent links between his wife, Gu Kailai, and the death of UK businessman Neil Heywood.

The central government has always distanced itself from Mr Chen's case, allowing them the option to let him go into exile and place blame for his treatment on rogue local authorities.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Support Workers - Mother's Help / Buddy Support Role

£8 - £11 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A gentleman with congenital achondropla...

Recruitment Genius: Training Officer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Training Officer is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Support Specialist - Document Management

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A leading provider of document ...

Recruitment Genius: Legal Secretary

£17000 - £17800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to work ...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent