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China scolds U.S. for harboring dissident Chen, demands apology

May 2, 2012 | 12:58 pm

Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng

The Chinese government issued a stern warning to the United States on Wednesday after blind dissident Chen Guangcheng ended his weeklong stay at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, saying officials were "strongly dissatisfied with the move" to shelter the activist and demanded an apology from Washington.

The scolding tone of the message delivered by a Foreign Ministry official and reported by state-run media raised concerns about China's commitment to whatever assurances officials gave U.S. diplomats during behind-the-scenes negotiations that appeared to resolve the embarrassing standoff.

"It should be pointed out that Chen Guangcheng, a Chinese citizen, was taken by the U.S. side to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing via abnormal means, and the Chinese side is strongly dissatisfied with the move," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin.

"What the U.S. side has done has interfered in the domestic affairs of China, and the Chinese side will never accept it," Liu said at a briefing in Beijing.

China demands that U.S. authorities investigate their handling of the Chen affair, hold anyone who violated international protocol accountable and provide guarantees that similar actions never recur, Liu said.

The official New China News Agency also reported that Beijing wants an apology from Washington over the incident.

The harsh accounts of the U.S. harboring of Chen after he escaped house arrest in his native Shandong province April 22 were the first official acknowledgments of the dispute.

The incident provoked a potentially explosive challenge to U.S.-China relations on the eve of this week's Cabinet-level meetings in Beijing on vital economic and security matters. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner arrived in Beijing for the annual talks just ahead of Chen's departure from the embassy.

Chinese officials and media had been silent on Chen's escape from house arrest and appeal for help from U.S. diplomats, and authorities went to great lengths to block Internet reports on the incident. Not only was Chen's name and home village blocked by state censors, but so were the words "blind," "embassy," fellow dissident He Peirong's nickname "Pearl" and the movie title "Shawshank Redemption" after some Chinese deduced that a recent screening of the Hollywood prison-break drama might have been a subtle signal of support for Chen by state TV managers.

An editorial run on the English-language website of the People's Daily tabloid-affiliate Global Times broke the official Chinese media silence on the Chen affair Wednesday with an unflattering account of the dissident cast as having an overly high opinion of himself and his standing in China.

"Quite a few out-of-favor Chinese people have sought to exaggerate their influence by relying on overseas powers. But this is a poor idea," the Global Times said in an online posting also offered earlier on its Chinese site but later withdrawn. "The time when foreign governments could guide Chinese authorities in making policy is long gone. In recent decades, hundreds of Chinese ran to the West seeking to put pressure over China, but none of them gained the prominence they wished."

The latter statement appeared to be a subtle warning to Chen not to pursue U.S. asylum, as fellow dissidents said he intended to do if he could get official assurances that his wife and two children would be allowed to leave with him.

A State Department official who spoke to reporters in Washington on background said the Chen case involved "exceptional circumstances" and that the U.S. government would work to ensure "that our policies are consistent" with diplomatic practice as well as with U.S. values. But he declined to say whether an apology to China was in order.


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--Carol J. Williams in Los Angeles

Photo: Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, right, with U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke, leaves Wednesday for a Beijing hospital after spending nearly a week at the U.S. Embassy. Credit: U.S. Embassy Beijing Press Office / Agence France-Presse/Getty Images