'US, China in talks about activist Chen’s status'
Beijing: A blind legal activist who fled house arrest in his rural China village is under the protection of US officials and high-level talks are taking place between the countries about his fate, an overseas activist group said on Saturday.
The whereabouts of Chen Guangcheng — amid unconfirmed reports that he sought protection at the US embassy in Beijing — could be a major political complication for the two countries as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other top US officials are due in China this coming week for the latest round of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue.
"Chen is under US protection and high-level talks are currently under way between US and Chinese officials regarding Chen's status," said a statement from the ChinaAid Association. It cited a source close to the situation.
Texas-based ChinaAid and its founder, Bob Fu, have been active in promoting Chen's case and confirmed on Friday that Chen had escaped to Beijing from where he was being held in his village in Shandong province in eastern China.
The US embassy in Beijing declined to comment on Saturday, as have US officials in Washington.
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai told a briefing earlier Saturday on the upcoming talks with the US that he had no information on Chen's case.
"Your question does not come within the scope of today's briefing. So I have no information to give you," he said when asked about Chen.
Fu and Chinese-based activists say Chen slipped away from his intensely guarded home on the night of April 22, was driven away by activists and then handed over to others who brought him to Beijing.
Chen also recorded a video as a direct address to Premier Wen Jiabao, condemning the treatment of him and his family and accusing local Communist Party officials by name. Activists sent the video on Friday to the overseas Chinese news site Boxun.com, which posted part of it on YouTube.
Activist Hu Jia met with Chen after his escape and said the people with Chen later called him. "They said, 'He is in a 100 percent safe place’," Hu said. "If they say that, I know where that place is. There's only one 100 percent (safe) place in China, and that's the US embassy." Claims of Chen's location could not be verified.
Hu's wife, Zeng Jinyan, posted a photo Friday on Twitter of Chen and Hu together. Chen is wearing the same clothes he wore in the video. Both men are smiling.
Chen's escape, if ultimately successful, would boost a beleaguered civil rights community, which has faced rising arrests and other harassment over the past year.