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 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, with secretary of state Hillary Clinton and other top US officials due to arrive 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 his 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 Friday that Chen had escaped.
Fu said Chen's case was a benchmark for the US and its human rights image around the world. "Because of Chen's wide popularity, the Obama administration must stand firmly with him or risk losing credibility as a defender of freedom and the rule of law," he said. "If there is a reason why Chinese dissidents revere the US, it is for a moment like this."
But the case comes as the US is looking for help from China on many issues, such as trying to restrain North Korea and Iran on their nuclear ambitions, and pushing Syria to observe a ceasefire in the fighting there.
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% safe place,'" Hu said. "If they say that, I know where that place is. There's only one 100% (safe) place in China, and that's the US embassy."
Claims of Chen's location could not be verified.
If Chen is in the US embassy or with US officials at another location, it is not known how he would be able to leave or where he could go without Chinese permission. His case is also complicated because his wife and six-year-old daughter are still trapped in Shandong.
In 1989, when Fang Lizhi, whose speeches inspired student protesters throughout the 1980s, fled with his wife to the US embassy after China's 1989 military crackdown on the pro-democracy movement, he was forced to stay there for 13 months while the countries discussed his fate.
Fu said Chen's case should be handled through negotiations, like Fang's, and that his family should not suffer any reprisals.