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Chinese Dissident Now Seeking U.S. Asylum

  • RFE/RL

Blind activist Chen Guangcheng being accompanied by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell (right) and U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke (center) in Beijing on May 2.

Blind activist Chen Guangcheng being accompanied by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell (right) and U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke (center) in Beijing on May 2.

The United States has confirmed that the blind Chinese activist at the center of a diplomatic standoff between Washington and Beijing now wants to leave China with his family.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters that U.S. officials had spoken on May 3 with Chen Guangcheng and confirmed he and his wife want to leave.

A senior U.S. official said Washington was ready to help Chen if he wanted to leave.

The self-taught lawyer spent six days in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing after fleeing house arrest in his rural town where his activism against forced sterilization angered officials.

He emerged on May 2 after U.S. officials said they had an agreement with Chinese officials under which Chen could remain in China under improved conditions.

But Chen later said Chinese authorities had threatened his wife.

It remains unclear whether China will negotiate further over Chen's exit from the country.

The U.S. ambassador to China, Gary Locke, said Chen was "never pressured" to leave the U.S. Embassy. Locke told NBC television on May 3 that American doctors are due to meet with Chen on May 4.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Beijing at the start of the U.S.-Sino talks

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Beijing at the start of the U.S.-Sino talks

China's Foreign Ministry refused to comment on Chen's request to go abroad. On May 2, the Foreign Ministry harshly condemned the U.S. Embassy for sheltering him.

At a regular press briefing, ministry spokesman Liu Weimin repeated China's stance that the U.S. handling of Chen's case was "irregular" and "unacceptable."

Asked about Chen's request to leave China, Liu said, "I have no information about that."

Clinton Visit Raises Stakes

U.S. and Chinese officials were discussing the case as visiting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Chinese President Hu Jintao spoke at the start of high-level annual talks between the two countries.

In her remarks in Beijing, Clinton highlighted human rights and civil liberties but made no specific mention of the Chen case.

"Now, of course, as part of our dialogue, the United States raises the importance of human rights and fundamental freedoms," she said. "Because we believe that all governments do have to answer to citizens' aspirations for dignity and the rule of law, and that no nation can or should deny those rights.

"As President [Barack] Obama said this week, a China that protects the rights of all its citizens will be a stronger and more prosperous nation and, of course, a stronger partner on behalf of our common goals."

Chinese President Hu Jintao said he hoped China and the United States could forge closer cooperation and avoid conflict. He called on Beijing and Washington to "prove that the traditional belief that big powers are bound to enter into confrontation and conflicts is wrong."

Hu said both countries should seek new ways of developing relations between major countries in the era of economic globalization.

"Both sides must learn to respect each other, grasp the common ground, and make the case of common interest bigger, treat differences appropriately, respect and care for each others concerns, properly resolve existing disputes through dialogue and communication and strengthen mutual understanding to avoid impacting the overall state of the Sino-U.S. relationship," he said.

The U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China planned to hold an emergency hearing on the handling of Chen's case later on May 3.

With reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters
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