Sunday 15 December 2019

Dissident fears for his life after leaving US embassy

Blind activist Chen Guangcheng (C) speaks with his wife Yuan Weijing (2nd R) and children as U.S. ambassador to China Gary Locke (facing camera, 3rd R) and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell (facing camera, 4th R) stands nearby in a Beijing hospital. Photo: Reuters
Blind activist Chen Guangcheng (C) speaks with his wife Yuan Weijing (2nd R) and children as U.S. ambassador to China Gary Locke (facing camera, 3rd R) and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell (facing camera, 4th R) stands nearby in a Beijing hospital. Photo: Reuters

Andrew Quinn and Chris Buckley in Beijing

CONFLICTING reports surrounded the controversial exit of blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng from the US Embassy in Beijing yesterday.

The standoff between Washington and China came to an abrupt end yesterday with both governments claiming that the dissident wanted to leave of his own accord.

However, his supporters insisted that Mr Chen agreed to a deal reluctantly after his family were threatened with reprisals. And last night CNN carried reports claiming that they had spoken to Mr Chen by telephone and that he said that he felt "let down" by the US, and that he feared for his life should he remain in China.

The terms of the deal announced by American officials, including a commitment to allow Mr Chen to be relocated within China with his family and to study at a university, will keep him as a pivotal figure in Sino-US relations. But initial statements from Beijing indicated the case would remain a source of contention.

Mr Chen's dramatic escape from house arrest and his flight to the US Embassy have already made him a symbol of resistance to China's shackles on dissent,and the deal struck between Washington and Beijing to have him remain in China will ensure he stays an international test case of how tight or loose those shackles remain.

Both governments said Mr Chen had left the embassy voluntarily and US officials said he never sought asylum. Nonetheless, China accused the US of meddling and demanded an apology for the way diplomats handled the case.

Mr Chen's departure from the embassy came as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Beijing for top-level US-China talks.

"I am pleased that we were able to facilitate Chen Guangcheng's stay and departure from the US Embassy in a way that reflected his choices and our values," Mrs Clinton said.

"(Chen) has a number of understandings with the Chinese government about his future, including the opportunity to pursue higher education in a safe environment. Making these commitments a reality is the next crucial task"

Chinese authorities offered Chen a choice of seven Chinese cities outside Beijing, including Tianjin and Nanjing, where he could study law, said a lawyer involved in the negotiations.

Washington has said it will watch Chen's treatment closely, and any effort by Beijing to fetter his activities could provide a new source of contention.

Irish Independent

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