Friday, May 04, 2012

Beijing Signals Possible Deal But Chen Fears for Safety

Fate of Blind Rights Activist Overshadows US-China Talks

Blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng said Friday that he is worried about his safety and would like to travel with his family to the United States “for a time.”

Chen told reporters via telephone from a Beijing hospital that he has been unable to meet U.S. officials since Wednesday, when he left the U.S. embassy where he had sought refuge for nearly a week after escaping house arrest.

Earlier, Chen made a dramatic appeal for help from U.S. lawmakers. He said in a phone call carried live in a U.S. Congressional hearing Thursday that he hopes to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is attending the second and final day of high-level talks in China.

Chen originally agreed to a deal reached by U.S. and Chinese authorities that would allow him to stay in a “safe” place in China and study law. But he changed his mind hours after leaving U.S. protection, saying his family had been threatened and that he wanted to leave the country.

Study Abroad Could be Way Out

China's foreign ministry on Friday opened a possible door to resolving the diplomatic standoff, saying that Chen could apply to study abroad, “just like any other Chinese citizen.”

Secretary of State Clinton has not commented publicly on Chen's case during the talks. She told Chinese President Hu Jintao Friday that the U.S. is committed to “bridging differences wherever possible,” but said that the U.S.-China relationship is “stronger than it's ever been.”

Chinese Premiere Wen Jiabao said the talks have been “highly productive,” and that the two countries have “accomodated each other's major concerns.” But he urged Clinton to respect differences between the two countries.

Chinese state media took a more pessimistic view of the incident on Friday. An editorial in the government-backed Beijing Daily said Chen has “become a tool and a pawn for American politicans to throw mud on China.”

Beijing has already demanded an apology from the U.S. for taking in Chen, calling it an unacceptable interference in its internal affairs.

Chen is a self-taught lawyer and human rights activist who has been blind since childhood. He was given a four-year prison sentence in 2006 for exposing abuses under China's forced abortion policy aimed at population control. He had been under house arrest since 2010, before escaping on April 22.