By Stephanie Ho
Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng has left the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, days after he stunned the world by escaping from house arrest and taking refuge with U.S. diplomats. China is demanding an apology from the United States over the incident.
Neither the U.S. nor Chinese governments would confirm that blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng was in the embassy last week, but both sides confirmed Wednesday that he had left.
A U.S. official said Chen had arrived at a medical facility in Beijing and would be reunited with his family. The official said Chen is being allowed to remain in China, in what he described as a ‘safe’ place. He added that the activist made no request for political asylum in the United States.
China’s Xinhua news agency said only that Chen had left the U.S. embassy “of his own volition” after staying there for six days. Neither report said where Chen is headed next.
Chen’s situation has threatened to overshadow annual high level U.S.-China talks set to start Thursday in the Chinese capital, with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.
Xinhua quoted China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin as expressing strong dissatisfaction at the U.S. Embassy for taking in a Chinese citizen in what he described as an “irregular manner.”
The statement accuses the U.S. of interfering in Chinese domestic affairs. It demands an apology from the United States, an investigation into the incident, punishment for those responsible and assurances that it will not happen again.
Hong Kong based human rights researcher Joshua Rosenzweig calls China’s demands for an apology “bluster,” and says he believes Beijing is acting this way for the benefit of the domestic audience.
“If the Chinese complaint is around the failure to operate according to proper procedures, the Chinese government started this a long time ago by not following proper procedures in the treatment of Chen Guangcheng and his family. I don’t think the Chinese have much ground on which to stand,” Rosenzweig says.
Chen is a 40-year-old self-taught lawyer who spent four years in prison after exposing forced abortions and sterilizations by Chinese family planning authorities. He has been confined to his house in Shandong province since he was released from jail in September 2010.
Bob Fu, with U.S.-based human rights organization ChinaAid, says local thugs have beaten Chen and his family, which he thinks should have been more than enough reason for them to want to leave the country.
“If he feels he can continue to trust the government promise or commitment for his safety out of this event, he may choose to stay,” he says. “But I just feel it’s a huge gamble.”
Chen stunned the world when he fled from his tightly guarded house arrest in late April and sought refuge at the U.S. embassy in Beijing. Chinese authorities had detained several people who allegedly helped him escape as well as some of Chen’s family members.