Diplomatic silence shrouds Chinese dissident Chen's situation

Chen
U.S. and Chinese officials maintained silence Monday on the location and fate of Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng as both sides sought to avert a diplomatic crisis during Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's coming visit to Beijing.

State-run Chinese media have yet to even acknowledge that the blind 40-year-old human rights activist escaped last week after 18 months of house arrest, and U.S. officials have declined to confirm reports that Chen has been given refuge at the American Embassy in Beijing.

Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell was already in Beijing ahead of Clinton's arrival, but State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland refused to say anything about his meetings with Chinese counterparts or whether the subject of Chen's whereabouts was being addressed.

Clinton will have to juggle U.S. commitment to improving human rights in China with the need to retain Chinese cooperation in regional and international matters such as North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons capability.

John Brennan, a top national security advisor to President Obama, said on "Fox News Sunday" that the administration was seeking to strike "an appropriate balance" between support for human rights and diplomatic relations with Beijing in its handling of the Chen affair.

The dissident, who has long spoken out against forced abortions and sterilization in China under the government's  one-child rule, appealed to the Beijing leadership in a video posted on YouTube on Friday in which he said his family and supporters had been harassed by authorities during his detention and house arrest.

A Texas-based activist group, China Aid Assn., said in a statement over the weekend that Chen was "under U.S. protection."

"High-level talks are currently underway between U.S. and Chinese officials regarding Chen's status," said the statement, citing a source close to the situation.

Bob Fu, founder and director of China Aid, said in a telephone interview with The Times that he envisioned U.S. and Chinese authorities resolving the unspoken standoff over Chen by agreeing to let him and his family take refuge in the United States, perhaps under the pretext of his seeking medical treatment.

Chen sustained numerous injuries while making the 300-mile journey to Beijing from his home in Yinan county, Fu said.

Chen’s friends and colleagues in the human rights movement have said he doesn’t want to abandon the fight, but Fu said “he has suffered enough,” and that others would pick up the rights battle if Chen were to leave the country.

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-- Carol J. Williams in Los Angeles

Photo:  Blind Chinese legal activist Chen Guangcheng is seen in Shandong province, China, in an undated photo provided by the China Aid Assn. Chen fled house arrest on April 22 for what activists say is the protection of U.S. diplomats in Beijing. Credit: Associated Press 

 
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