By Ma Latang
The fate and whereabouts of Chinese blind human rights activist Chen Guangcheng has overshadowed the upcoming China-US Economic and Strategic Dialogue.
US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell arrived in Beijing yesterday — earlier than expected — to prepare for the upcoming high-level conversation between the two world powers and is also thought by many to be seeking a resolution on Chen’s fate although the US government has refused to comment on the whereabouts of Chen.
Dilemma for both sides
Both sides, however, are facing a dilemma. The escape of Chen “is buoying China’s embattled dissident community,” according to the Associated Press. Beijing fears that any concession will embolden other activists and lead to more embarrassment. Yet, the protection of Chen’s rights is also a test to Premier Wen Jiabao who advocates rule of law and reform, says US Representative Chris Smith.
Washington might be the same uneasy. The White House is seeking to improve its relationship with China and needs Chinese cooperation on a range of global issues from North Korea to Iran.
Meanwhile, Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican candidate to challenge Barack Obama in this year’s general election, has urged Obama to protect the blind activist and, in this way, “raised the political stakes” for the Obama administration.
Chen’s whereabouts unknown
Al Jazeera has disclosed more details on Chen Guangcheng’s escape.
Hu Jia told AFP that Chen Guangcheng is currently in the US Embassy, but neither Beijing nor Washington has confirmed his words.
The New York Times quoted diplomats in Beijing as saying that Chen Guangcheng may be just in an apartment or some other building and hence “still vulnerable to arrest.”
Rumors were rife that Chen Guangcheng would take flight to the US and start his exile. Keyword searches for “UA898”, the rumored United Airlines flight number, has been blocked on China’s twitter-like service, Weibo.
But the Guardian says Chen Guangcheng has turned down the offer of US asylum.
“He does not want to go into exile,” activist Zeng Jinyan told CBS News, “He wants to stay in China to continue with his work.”
In the meanwhile, at least four of Chen Guangcheng’s relatives have been arrested.
Chen Kegui, Chen Guangcheng’s nephew who injured government-hired thugs during what he called “self-defense” when fighting thugs rushed in after Chen Guangcheng’s escape, is also now wanted by the police.
Bob Fu, head of ChinaAid, a Texas-based human rights group, says the final outcome of Chen Guangcheng’s fate will be revealed within 24 to 48 hours.
A potential solution is to send Chen to US despite Chen Guangcheng’s will to stay in China.
Both the US and China are “eager to solve this issue,” said Mr. Fu.
The Strategic and Economic Dialogue is “too important to China,” a Chinese official told the Independent, “They will separate out Chen from the dialogue. China really needs this dialogue… because the relationship with the United States is extremely important to China and this is a sign of commitment and even of friendship.”
President Obama is also trying to strike a “balance” between human rights and China-US relationship, a senior White House official told Fox TV.