US hints at handing blind dissident back to Chinese
America raised the prospect yesterday that the blind dissident lawyer who took refuge in the US embassy last week could be handed over to Chinese authorities.
A top Obama aide said the US would seek an "appropriate balance" between human rights and maintaining relations with China.
Chen Guangcheng (40), made a remarkable escape last Sunday night from his home, where he had been held under house arrest for almost 20 months.
His daring getaway and alleged presence at the US embassy has significantly heightened tensions between Washington and China, ahead of talks due to start in Beijing on Thursday between US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and China's leaders.
Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell arrived in the capital yesterday, a further indication that both parties are keen for Mr Chen's fate to be decided before the talks.
John Brennan, US President Barack Obama's counterterrorism adviser, declined to provide details on the incident or say whether Mr Chen might be hiding in their embassy, but stressed the US relationship with China was "very important", adding that they would make sure the "appropriate balance is struck".
"I think in all instances the president tries to balance our commitment to human rights, making sure that the people throughout the world have the ability to express themselves freely and openly, but also that we can continue to carry out our relationships with key countries overseas," Mr Brennan said. He added that he was confident that Mr Obama and others within the US government "will be able to find the right way forward".
Meanwhile, Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has spoken out strongly in support of Mr Chen, urging US officials in Beijing to "take every measure to ensure that Chen and his family members are protected from further persecution".
"Any serious US policy toward China must confront the facts of the Chinese government's denial of political liberties, its one-child policy, and other violations of human rights," said Mr Romney. "Our country must play a strong role in supporting those fighting for the freedoms we enjoy."
Although Mr Chen's fellow dissident Hu Jia said that his friend wanted to remain in China to continue his fight against human rights abuses, staying had been considered no longer a feasible option.
In a video posted online after his escape, Mr Chen called on Premier Wen Jiabao to prosecute local officials who have subjected him and his family to repeated beatings during his time under house arrest, for his family to be protected, and for Mr Wen to act to end official corruption in China. (© Daily Telegraph, London)