AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
BEIJING: Blind Chinese rights activist Chen Guangcheng is holed up in the US embassy in Beijing but is not seeking asylum abroad, a fellow dissident said today, raising the spectre of a China-US diplomatic wrangle.
Hu Jia, who was detained over the weekend for questioning in the affair, also said Chinese security officials indicated that Chen had met US ambassador Gary Locke since the activist’s dramatic flight from house arrest.
“He is in the embassy,” Hu, who had met Chen after his escape, said when asked whether he could confirm rumours of Chen’s whereabouts.
“Security officials asked when Chen Guangcheng met ambassador Gary Locke,” he added. “So it seems very clear that he has met the American ambassador. I had no way of answering. I do not know what is going on inside. But when I heard this I was very surprised and excited.”
Chen, a self-taught lawyer, fled house arrest in Shandong province on April 22 with the help of supporters from under the noses of dozens of guards and subsequently recorded a video alleging abuses against him and his family.
Since then, rumours have swirled that Chen had made it to safety in the US embassy, but the embassy and State Department officials in Washington have refused to confirm or deny these.
Any move by the United States to harbour a fierce government critic is certain to antagonise Beijing, and the sensitive situation threatens to become a major diplomatic entanglement.
It comes with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner due in Beijing on Thursday for an annual round of wide-ranging talks on the often testy China-US relationship.
A senior US diplomat, Kurt Campbell, arrived yesterday to meet Chinese officials over Chen’s case, the New York Times reported, citing senior officials and diplomats in Washington and Beijing.
“If — as seems to be the case — Chen Guangcheng is indeed under some form of US government protection, it has all the makings of the diplomatic equivalent of a slow-motion car crash,” said Phelim Kline, senior Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch.
“The status, safety and well-being of Chen, his family and supporters will, if not publicly addressed and seen to be on the road to resolution, be the neon elephant in the room in key bilateral discussions on everything from currency issues and trade ties to regional security.”
Chen, 40, won worldwide acclaim for exposing forced sterilisations and late-term abortions under China’s “one child” policy, and for using his legal knowledge to help people battle a range of other injustices including illegal land grabs.
He and his family were put under round-the-clock house arrest after he completed a four-year jail sentence in September 2010.
Hu said he met Chen after his escape and that Chen vowed not to seek US asylum but would stand his ground and fight the injustices against him and his family.
“He is not seeking political asylum,” Hu said.