The United States and China are holding talks on the status of blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, who escaped from house arrest and is believed to be under U.S. protection in Beijing, according to U.S.-based rights activists.
Several groups said Chen is currently at the U.S. embassy in Beijing.
While Washington broke its silence on the matter Sunday, the Chinese governments has kept mum on the politically sensitive issue, which surfaced just before a high level bilateral dialogue in Beijing this week, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“We are working very closely with the individuals involved in this,” chief White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan said in an interview with Fox News Sunday.
Without providing any details about the talks or who was conducting them, he said President Barack Obama is attempting to strike a balance between U.S. “commitment to human rights” and maintaining relations with “key” countries.
Obama, he said, is “going to make sure that we do this in the appropriate way and that appropriate balance is struck.”
Rights activists have not ruled out the possibility of Chen flying into exile in the United States due to concerns over his security following his escape a week ago from his guarded home in Shandong province in eastern China after 19 months of house arrest.
But some reports said Chen, who has campaigned against forced abortions and sterilization of women under China’s birth control policies, has expressed the desire not to seek political asylum in the U.S. but to remain in China to continue his campaign for democracy and the rule of law.
“I think if his safety is going to be jeopardized by living in China, he may have to be exiled in the U.S. and this is the only option,” Bob Fu, president of the Texas-based Christian human rights group ChinaAid, told RFA when asked about reports that Chen wants to remain in China.
ChinaAid said in a statement on its website that it had learned from a source “close to the Chen Guangcheng situation” that he is under U.S. protection and high level talks are underway between Washington and Beijing regarding his status.
“This is a pivotal moment for U.S. human rights diplomacy,” Fu said in the statement.
“Because of Chen’s wide popularity, the Obama Administration must stand firmly with him or risk losing credibility as a defender of freedom and the rule of law. If there is a reason why Chinese dissidents revere the U.S., it is for a moment like this.”
A source knowledgeable about Chen’s escape from house arrest told Human Rights in China (HRIC), a New York based group, that “Chen is safe but does not want to leave China.”
The negotiations over Chen’s status may be complicated if he does not want to seek political asylum in the United States.
“He believes that China is in a period of intensive changes now, and it’s not far away from the final fundamental change,” said Hu Jia, a Beijing activist who said he met with Chen on Wednesday, according to the Washington Post.
“He told me he didn’t want to ask for political asylum in the U.S. Instead, he wants to ‘stay in this land and continue to fight,’ ” said Hu, who was detained by police on Saturday but released after a day.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has voiced concern about Chen in the past, and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner are due to arrive in Beijing for annual talks May 3-4.
ChinaAid said it hoped the Obama Administration will honor Chen’s wishes, ensure his safety, and make sure that Chen’s family does not suffer reprisals.
“Chen’s case should be handled like professor Fang Lizhi and not become another Wang Lijun,” it said, referring to two previous Chinese cases in which the U.S. diplomatic missions were sought as protection.
In 1989, Chinese astrophysicist Fang Lizhi, a vociferous Chinese government critic, and his wife took refuge at the U.S. embassy in Beijing as the Chinese army crushed the Tiananmen protests.
They had to remain at the embassy for about a year before Beijing, in a concession to Washington, allowed the couple to leave China. Fang lived in exile in the U.S. and died earlier this month at the age of 76, having never returned to China.
In the most recent case, Chinese Chongqing city police chief Wang Lijun fled to the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu on February 6 amid reports that he may have sought asylum, sparking a crisis that led to the ouster of the city’s ruling Chinese communist party chief, Bo Xilai.
Wang informed U.S. diplomats about Bo’s alleged illicit dealings during his 30 hours at the consulate before he left the U.S. premises and was taken into custody by officials from Beijing.
China’s state-controlled media have not reported on Chen’s escape and anything related to him has been blocked on Chinese social media sites.
Reported by RFA’s Mandarin service. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.