Blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng (陳光誠) is under US protection in Beijing after an audacious escape from 19 months under house arrest, a US-based group said yesterday, in a drama that threatens to ignite new tensions between the two governments.
The US has not given any public confirmation of reports that Chen, who slipped away from under the noses of guards and bristling surveillance equipment around his village home in Shandong Province, fled into the US embassy.
China has also declined direct public comment on Chen’s reported escape, which threatens to overshadow a two-day meeting with top officials from US President Barack Obama’s administration, including US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in Beijing from Thursday.
However, ChinaAid said it “learned from a source close to the Chen Guangcheng situation that Chen is under US protection and high-level talks are currently under way between US and Chinese officials regarding Chen’s status.”
“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,” Bob Fu, president of the religious and political rights advocacy group that has long campaigned for Chen’s freedom, said in an e-mail.
The reports of Chen’s escape come nearly three months after former Chongqing vice mayor and police chief Wang Lijun (王立軍) fled into a US consulate for more than 24 hours on Feb. 6, unleashing a scandal that has rattled the Chinese Communist Party months before a once-in-a-decade leadership handover.
Wang’s brief flight to the US consulate led to the downfall of former Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai (薄熙來), who had been openly campaigning for a place in the inner circle of power.
Beijing lawyer and rights advocate Pu Zhiqiang (浦志強) said reliable contacts also told him Chen took refuge in US embassy grounds. The incident will be another damaging blot on China’s security services, following Wang’s flight, Pu said.
“Everyone knew about the suffering of Chen Guangcheng and his family, but nobody dared raised his head over this and ignored it,” he said, referring to Chinese officials.
“Chen Guangcheng has been the most typical victim of this lawless, boundless exercise of power,” Pu said. “But the day has finally come when he has escaped from it.”
Chen, a self-schooled legal advocate who campaigned against forced abortions, had been held under extra-legal confinement in his village home in Linyi in Shandong Province since September 2010, when he was released from jail.
His confinement under relentless surveillance with his family fanned protests by Chinese sympathizers and criticism from foreign governments and groups.
Chen’s escape and the furor it has unleashed could add to the headaches of the Chinese Communist Party, which is striving to ensure stability and authority before a leadership transition later this year.
It also threatens to overshadow a visit by Clinton and US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who are due in Beijing next week for the annual “strategic and economic dialogue” between the two countries.