* Blind dissident said open to medical trip to U.S.
* Chen supporter sees solution in weeks, not months
* Clinton to raise human rights in Beijing
* China, U.S. governments keep silence on Chen issue
By Chris Buckley and Chris Baltimore
BEIJING/MIDLAND, Texas, May 1 Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton was set on Wednesday to begin a high-stakes trip
to Beijing, where a blind dissident is reportedly holed up in
the U.S. embassy as China and the United States try to work out
a solution before high-level talks.
Legal activist Chen Guangcheng, according to one of his
helpers, appeared to soften his initial insistence on staying in
China to press on with his campaign for reform - a stance that
would have complicated U.S.-Chinese negotiations on his fate.
"The movement is headed in the direction that Cheng's family
will be allowed to come to the U.S. for non-asylum issues," said
Bob Fu, whose religious and political rights advocacy group
ChinaAid has been the chief source of information about Chen.
"Chen insists he does not want to seek asylum per se. I
think he will agree to come for medical treatment and live a
safer life after seven years of torture and misery in China," Fu
told Reuters at ChinaAid's office in Midland, Texas.
Fu, who himself fled religious persecution in China in the
1990s, predicted that "the deal could come soon, at least not
(in) months. It should be resolved in a few weeks at the most."
Both governments have avoided official comment on the Chen
case and neither has confirmed that he is under U.S. protection
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
Chen, who campaigned against forced abortions as part of
China's "one child" population control policy, had been confined
to his village home in the eastern province of Shandong since
September 2010 after release from jail on charges he rejected as
On Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama nudged China to
improve its human rights record. But 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, who is seeking re-election in November, 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.
"To date, this administration has made a calculated decision
not to challenge the Chinese regime on its dismal human rights
record," said Republican congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen,
chairwoman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs
Committee in response to Obama's comments.
"This is an opportunity to correct that mistake," she said.
Frank Jannuzi, head of the Washington office of right group
Amnesty International, said the United States "has a moral
obligation to ensure that Chen Guangcheng, his family and any
who aided his Houdini-like escape from house arrest are either
granted asylum in the United States or are not mistreated if
they choose to stay in China."
"Any other outcome would be another setback for China's
human rights movement," added Jannuzi.
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 by the downfall
of top official Bo Xilai in a case linked to the apparent murder
of a British businessmen.
Before leaving for China late on Monday, 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.
The Chen case has 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.
"Both sides are bending over backward to not make strong
statements about the issue - indeed to say as little as possible
about it," said Nicholas Lardy, an expert on China's economy at
the Peterson Institute for International Economics in
"If the Chinese had reacted extremely strongly on this case
right off the top, it would have had the potential to derail the
whole dialogue and become a major thorn in bilateral relations,"
The talks also give Washington a chance to win more Chinese
cooperation 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.