BEIJING - The United States said Thursday it was in talks with Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng about his future, after the blind activist expressed fears for his safety and pleaded to be taken abroad.
The campaigning lawyer, who escaped from house arrest and spent six days at the US embassy in Beijing until he left on Wednesday, is at the centre of a sensitive diplomatic row between China and the United States.
US officials have said Chen, who riled Chinese authorities by exposing forced abortions and sterilisations under the government’s “one-child” policy, left the embassy after Beijing pledged he and his family would be treated “humanely”.
But Chen has since said he felt under pressure to leave the embassy, fearing for the safety of his family, who suffered repeated abuses at the hands of local officials in their home town.
On Thursday, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Chen and his wife had made clear they no longer wanted to stay in China.
“It is clear now that in the last 12 to 15 hours they as a family have had a change of heart on whether they want to stay in China,” Nuland said in Beijing, where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is taking part in previously scheduled talks.
“We need to consult with them further, get a better sense of what they want to do, and together consider their options,” she told reporters.
US State Department officials have been adamant that Chen never requested asylum and strongly denied allegations that he was pressured to leave the embassy.
Any renewed abuse against Chen could prove to be a political nightmare for Barack Obama’s administration, which has faced calls to show its commitment to defend human rights in China as the US president runs for re-election.
Speaking to AFP on Thursday, Chen said he did not initially want to seek asylum overseas, but changed his mind after emerging from the embassy due to concern for his safety and that of his family.
“I want to go overseas. I want the US to help me and my family. They helped me before,” he said by phone from a Beijing hospital where he is being treated for a foot injury suffered during his dramatic escape on April 22.
“I don’t feel safe here. I want to leave.”
Chen, 40, told CNN that since his escape his wife had been tied to a chair for two days by police who threatened to beat her to death in his home province of Shandong, in northeastern China.
|Blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng
Click on thumbnail to view (Photos: Reuters)