Blind activist Chen Guangcheng, the rights campaigner who escaped from his heavily policed home in eastern China to the US Embassy in Beijing under dramatic circumstances about a week ago, left the Embassy premises and was admitted to a city hospital for treatment on Wednesday.
Intense negotiations between US and Chinese officials preceded Chen’s departure and coincided with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s arrival in Beijing for the fourth round of the crucial China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED).
The US later said that Chen was allowed into the Embassy on humanitarian grounds. Reacting sharply, and for the first time, China demanded an apology, saying it was interference in internal matters.
The S&ED is expected to be overshadowed by the incident involving Chen who’s fought for years against forced abortions allegedly carried out by officials in rural China to implement the country’s one-child policy. His wife and son were said to be with him in the hospital. Reports said he could be allowed to study in a university in Beijing.
Reuters quoted an US official making a statement in the evening. “Cheng Guangcheng, who I think all of you know, entered the United States Embassy in Beijing under exceptional circumstances on April 26, 2012, requesting medical treatment from the embassy. In part because of his visual disability, he was injured while travelling to Beijing from his home village of Dongshigu in Shandong province - that's a couple of hundreds of miles away.
"On humanitarian grounds, we assisted Mr. Chen in entering our facilities and allowed him to remain on a temporary basis. US medical personnel conducted a series of medical tests and administered appropriated treatment while he was there,” the official said.
“Mr. Chen decided to depart the embassy today and travel to a hospital in Beijing. He did so on the basis of a number of understandings. China acknowledged that Mr. Chen will be treated humanely while he remains in China,” the official added.
Within hours after Clinton’s arrival China upped the rhetoric and asked US for an apology.
“It should be pointed out that Chen Guangcheng, a Chinese citizen, was taken by the US side to the US Embassy in Beijing via abnormal means, and the Chinese side is strongly dissatisfied with the move," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Liu Weimin said.
He stressed that China demands that the United States thoroughly investigate the event, hold relevant people accountable and ensure that such an event does not happen again.
"What the US side has done has interfered in the domestic affairs of China, and the Chinese side will never accept it," said the spokesman.
"The US Embassy in Beijing has the obligation to observe relevant international laws and Chinese laws, and it should not do anything irrelevant to its function," said the spokesman.
Also for the first time on Wednesday, China’s tightly controlled mentioned the incident and its possible impact on US-China relations.
“Chen Guangcheng incident will not affect Sino-US relations. The upcoming China-US Strategic & Economic Dialogue is unlikely to dwell on him. 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 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 Global Times, an English newspaper from the mouthpiece People’s Daily, said Wednesday.
Hillary, accompanied by Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner will join Vice Premier Wang Qishan and State Councilor Dai Bingguo, the special representatives of President Hu Jintao, to co-chair the annual dialogue from Thursday to Friday. Officials said the chiefs of more than 20 government agencies on both sides will attend the gathering.