US and Chinese officials are ironing out a deal to secure US asylum for a blind Chinese legal activist who fled house arrest, with an agreement likely before US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrives in China this week, a US human rights campaigner said yesterday.
Bob Fu (傅希秋) of the Texas-based rights group ChinaAid said that China and the US want to reach agreement on the fate of Chen Guangcheng (陳光誠) before the annual high-level talks with Clinton and other US officials begin in Beijing on Thursday.
“The Chinese top leaders are deliberating a decision to be made very soon, maybe in the next 24 to 48 hours,” Fu said, citing a source close to governments in Washington and Beijing.
Both sides are “eager to solve this issue,” said Fu, a former teacher at a Chinese Communist Party academy in Beijing whose advocacy group focuses on the rights of Christians in China and who maintains a network of contacts in the country.
“It really depends on China’s willingness to facilitate Chen’s exit,” Fu said.
Chen, a well-known dissident who angered authorities in rural China by exposing forced abortions, made a surprise escape from house arrest a week ago into what activists say is the protection of US diplomats in Beijing, causing a delicate diplomatic crisis for both governments.
The US embassy declined to comment yesterday on Chen’s situation or on talks involving US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell.
Both want the annual talks, known as the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, to provide ballast to a relationship that is often rocky and provide ways of working out disputes on trade, Taiwan, Syria, Iran and North Korea.
In a video made after Chen escaped from his village and released on Friday, the activist made no mention of wanting to go abroad. Instead, he beseeched Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) to investigate the beatings, harassment and other mistreatment he, his wife and daughter suffered at the hands of local officials during 20 months of house arrest.
If Chen were willing to leave China, Washington could ill afford to turn him away. Clinton and other senior officials have repeatedly raised his case in meetings with Chinese officials.
For Beijing, the issue is sensitive because Chen enjoys broad sympathy among the Chinese public for persevering in his activism despite being blind and despite repeated reprisals from local officials. Though Beijing dislikes bargaining with Washington over human rights, allowing Chen to go abroad would remove an irritant in relations with Washington. It would also prevent him from becoming a bargaining chip in an already bumpy transition of power from Chinese President Hu Jintao’s (胡錦濤) administration to a younger group of leaders.
Fu, who has been a point of contact for people helping Chen, said he offered to help the dissident leave China through “a sort of underground railroad” shortly after he made a daring nighttime escape from his heavily guarded farmhouse on April 22. However, Fu said that Chen refused the offer and chose instead to go to Beijing. Despite Chen’s initial resistance to exile, Fu said that might now be the only option.
“My sense is that at the end of the day, after China is willing to facilitate it in a face-saving way with the US, he and his family may have to choose to travel to the US in whatever way that China agrees,” he said.