China-US deal over dissident sours, Chen fears for life
BEIJING, May 3 — Blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng wants to leave for the United States rather than stay in China, saying his safety cannot be assured under a US-China deal that had persuaded him to give up refuge in the US embassy in Beijing.
Chen left the embassy yesterday, where he had taken refuge for six days after escaping house arrest, appearing to be satisfied with a diplomatic solution that would have allowed him and his family to remain in China in better circumstances.
But Chen told Reuters today by phone from a Beijing hospital, where he was escorted by US officials after leaving the embassy, that he had changed his mind after speaking to his wife, who spoke of recent threats made against his family.
Asked whether he now wished to stay in China or leave for the United States, the lawyer activist said: “Now I want to do the latter. That’s what I hope.
“There are many reasons and considerations. The main one is that my rights and safety cannot be assured here,” he said.
Chen, citing descriptions from his wife, Yuan Weijing, said his family had been surrounded by Chinese officials who menaced them and filled the family home. The dissident, from a village in rural Shandong province, has two children.
“When I was inside the American embassy, I didn’t have my family, and so I didn’t understand some things. After I was able to meet them, my ideas changed.”
However, it was unclear whether Chen would be able to travel to the United States. Having left the embassy and the protection of US authorities, his fate is now in the hands of the Chinese government. US officials appeared to be no longer with him.
The dissident said he had still not had an opportunity to explain his change of heart to US officials.
“I hope the US will help me leave immediately. I want to go there for medical treatment,” Chen said.
Clinton in eye of Chen storm
Washington had hoped the deal it had brokered with Beijing over Chen yesterday would defuse the crisis, with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the Chinese capital for security and economic talks due to begin today.
Under the deal, according to US officials, Chen and his family would have been relocated within the country in safety and he would be allowed to pursue his studies.
But Chinese authorities took a tougher tone in the hours after Chen left the embassy, immediately criticising what they called US meddling and demanding an apology for the way US diplomats handled the case.
Human rights groups said the deal entailed some risk that the Chinese authorities might not live up to the guarantees.
Earlier, Chen made a personal appeal to US President Barack Obama in comments aired on CNN. In other media interviews, he said he had feared for his life after learning his wife had been bound and beaten.
“I would like to say to President Obama, please do everything you can to get our family out,” Chen told CNN.
China demands apology
Chen is a self-schooled legal advocate who campaigned against forced abortions under China’s “one child” policy. He escaped 19 months of house arrest, during which he and his family faced beatings and threats, on April 22.
US officials had said Chen left the embassy of his own free will because he wanted to be reunited with his wife and children. US officials said that Chen wanted to remain in China and that he never asked for asylum.
Chen’s dramatic escape from house arrest last week and his flight to the US embassy have made him a symbol of resistance to China’s shackles on dissent, and the deal struck by Beijing and Washington would have kept him an international test case of how tight or loose those restrictions remain.
Now, however, his change of heart throws not only his own future into doubt but also raises questions about the wider US-China relationship.
It could also prove politically costly for US President Obama, who has already been accused of being soft on China by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and who could now face further criticism over Chen’s case.
What initially appeared to be a foreign policy success for the Obama administration could quickly turn into a liability. — Reuters