Clinton heads to China and into dissident drama

WASHINGTON/BEIJING Tue May 1, 2012 7:09pm EDT

1 of 4. Paramilitary police officers guard the entrance to the U.S. embassy in Beijing April 30, 2012. The United States faces a tense week in China as high-level talks on trade and global hot spots like Iran and North Korea open in the shadow of a blind Chinese activist's bold escape from house arrest to seek U.S. protection in Beijing.

Credit: Reuters/Petar Kujundzic

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WASHINGTON/BEIJING (Reuters) - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton left on Monday on a high-stakes trip to Beijing, where a blind dissident is reportedly holed up in the U.S. embassy in a drama threatening to overshadow top-level meetings between the two governments.

Dissident Chen Guangcheng, according to one of his helpers, will demand to stay in China and press on with his campaign for reform, adding to tension between Beijing and Washington that poses risks for both governments as well as to relations between the world's two biggest economies.

Both governments have scrupulously avoided official comment on the Chen case and neither has confirmed that he is under U.S. protection in Beijing.

Chen's audacious escape from house arrest, under the watch of the world's largest domestic security apparatus, was a "miracle" of planning and endurance, said Guo Yushan, a Beijing-based researcher and rights advocate who has campaigned for Chen and helped bring him to the Chinese capital after his escape.

But he said the 40-year-old, self-taught lawyer wants to stay in China and campaign for reform.

"He was adamant that he would not apply for political asylum with any country. He certainly wants to stay in China, and demand redress for the years of illegal persecution in Shandong and continue his efforts for Chinese society," said Guo on Monday, speaking in his first long interview since he was released from days of police questioning.

Chen, who campaigned against forced abortions as part of family planning, was confined to his village home in the eastern province of Shandong since September 2010, after release from jail on charges he rejected as spurious.

U.S. President Barack Obama nudged China to improve its human rights record, saying 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".

POLITICAL AMMUNITION

But at a news conference, he walked a fine line between not saying anything that would make it harder to resolve Chen's case while conveying U.S. concern for human rights and appreciation for wider cooperation with China.

It is a politically fragile period for both countries.

Obama, in this presidential election year, wants to avoid giving any political ammunition to his Republican foes who already accuse him of being too soft on China and have demanded he ensure Chen and his family are protected from persecution.

In Beijing, the ruling Communist Party is gearing up for leadership changes later in the year but the carefully choreographed planning has already been jolted out of step by the downfall of top official Bo Xilai, in a case linked to the apparent murder of a British businessmen.

Before leaving, Clinton promised to press China's leaders on human rights, an issue that has dropped down the agenda between the two countries in the more than two decades since the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

Clinton ducked a question about Chen, but hinted that she would not be shy about the matter in Beijing.

"A constructive relationship includes talking very frankly about those areas where we do not agree, including human rights," she told a news conference.

The Chen case has already distracted attention from this week's two-day talks, which U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner will also attend amid some progress in long-standing disputes over currency, trade and market access.

The talks also give Washington a chance to win more Chinese co-operation on international issues including pressuring Iran and North Korea over their nuclear programs, halting Syria's continued crackdown on unarmed protesters and reducing tensions over competing territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Analysts said Chen appears to have two options: going into exile or getting the Chinese authorities to allow him to live in freedom within China, a challenge at best.

Yang Jianli, who runs the U.S.-based pro-democracy group Initiatives for China, said he believed that both the United States and China would prefer that Chen go into exile but that he did not think the dissident would.

"He is not the (kind of) person who will give in," Yang said. "He is so determined to stay in China."

Bob Fu, whose religious and political rights advocacy group ChinaAid has been a source of information about Chen, suggested the most plausible solution would be for him to leave China for the United States with his family, ostensibly for medical care.

Fu, who said he has spoken with senior U.S. diplomats in China about Chen's case, suggested the dissident ultimately may have little choice.

"At the end of the day, that is the only option that is left, if he wants safety and freedom for himself and his family."

(Additional reporting by Chris Baltimore, Laura MacInnis, Paul Eckert and Andrew Quinn; Editing by Don Durfee and Jonathan Thatcher)

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Comments (8)
WJL wrote:
After critical comments on the timing of the appearance, lack of evidence on a human rights record and dramatic escape by a ‘blind’ dissident by this unknown character Chen, now some supporters based in the US has surfaced to give credence to this charade. Ha! Ha! Ha! What a joke – so there are more than 1 turncoat in the US. What else is news? What has any of these supposedly human rights activists done for China? The only thing that counts is Chinese citizens supporters, not some murky turncoats overseas. Where are Chen’s publications in China? What did he specifically campaign for? By the way, CIA idiots write something in Mandarin when you fabricate some articles, to make it believable, will you?

There is still the nice deafening silence by Hillary and Obama just in case the idiotic plot is exposed. We would like the whole world to see the bare face liar of American human rights. What about that murderer and his platoon’s crimes in Afghanistan, torture, rendition, etc.?

May 01, 2012 5:36am EDT  --  Report as abuse
gregson8000 wrote:
God help us……..if Clinton starts making secret deals and promising billions of aid and special privileges AGAIN….with idiot Geithner by her side….

May 01, 2012 9:43am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Yamayoko wrote:
Stingy Gary Locke patronized a hotel room at less than USD80 a night at Hainan conference. He must be keen to move the blind lawyer to U.S. to unladen his embassy burden. This sort of arrangement ended up well and smooth for past dissidents.

Now the central government affirms Chen’s civil rights and imputes the blame on provincial government that doesn’t.

May 01, 2012 10:00am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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