WASHINGTON/BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, said to be under U.S. protection in Beijing, wants reform, not asylum, said one of his key helpers as the United States’ top diplomat heads to Beijing for talks likely to be overshadowed by Chen’s case.
The blind activist’s escape from house arrest was a “miracle” of planning and endurance but Chen wants to stay in China and campaign for reform, said Guo Yushan, a Beijing-based researcher and rights advocate who has campaigned for Chen and helped bring him to Beijing after his escape.
“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, a self-schooled legal advocate who campaigned against forced abortions used to implement family planning goals, was confined to his village home in Shandong since September 2010, after release from jail on charges he rejected as spurious.
He is under U.S. protection in Beijing, according to a U.S.-based rights group, creating a diplomatic dilemma as the U.S. secretaries of state and treasury prepare to travel to China for annual talks on Thursday and Friday with Chinese officials.
President Barack Obama nudged China on Monday to improve its human rights record and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she will raise the issue in Beijing this week, but both stayed mum about Chen’s case.
At a news conference, Obama appeared to be walking a fine line between not saying anything that would make it harder to resolve Chen Guangcheng’s case while conveying U.S. concern for human rights and appreciation for wider cooperation with China.
Analysts said the dissident appears to have two options: going into exile, which he has told associates he does not want to do, or getting the Chinese authorities to allow him to live in freedom within China, a challenge at best.
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.
“Another option that is more realistic is for him and his family to come to the U.S., face-savingly for the Chinese government, to receive medical treatment,” Fu told Reuters in an interview in Midland, Texas, where his group is based.
Neither Obama nor Clinton have said a word in public about Chen, whose shadow will loom large at this week’s U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Beijing.
Asked about Chen’s case, Obama told a news conference: “Obviously I am aware of the press reports on the situation in China but I am not going to make a statement on the issue.”
Obama said the issue of human rights comes up every time there are senior U.S.-Chinese talks, saying the United States does so both on principle and because “we actually believe China will be stronger as it opens up and liberalizes its own system.”
Clinton also 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.
“That is the spirit that is guiding me as I take off for Beijing tonight and I can certainly guarantee that we will be discussing every matter including human rights that is pending between us.”
A senior U.S. diplomat, Kurt Campbell, U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, flew to Beijing to work on a solution to the Chen case ahead of this week’s U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Beijing, a source briefed on the matter said.
The State Department said nothing about Campbell’s whereabouts over the weekend but on Monday confirmed he was in Beijing. A State Department spokesman described his trip as part of the preparations for Clinton’s talks this week.
Other associates of Chen also said he is firmly against leaving China.
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.”
But Bob Fu of ChinaAid, 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,” he said.
The source briefed on the Chen case said Campbell, the senior U.S. diplomat who travelled to Beijing over the weekend, had an enormous challenge.
“I think Kurt is there to negotiate one of the two more favorable outcomes, either his asylum or his exoneration by senior Chinese officials so that he can return home to Shandong and live unmolested,” said the source, saying this was an inference on his part.
“I don’t think either of those outcomes is going to be easy to negotiate.”
Additional reporting by Chris Baltimore, Laura MacInnis, Paul Eckert and Andrew Quinn; Editing by Don Durfee and Jonathan Thatcher