US Official Goes to China Amid Dissident Crisis

Posted April 30th, 2012 at 12:05 am (UTC-5)
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Washington has sent a senior diplomat to Beijing as the U.S. attempts to contain a diplomatic crisis – the escape from house arrest of blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangchen and whether he is under U.S. protection.

Kurt Campbell, an assistant secretary of state, arrived early Sunday in Beijing where he is expected to talk with Chinese officials about Chen's case.

The United States has expressed concern about Chen's fate, but has refused all comment on his whereabouts amid unconfirmed reports he fled to the U.S. embassy in Beijing.

A U.S.-based China rights organization says Chen is under U.S. protection, and that talks are under way between U.S. and Chinese officials.

Speaking to VOA late Sunday, ChinaAid President Bob Fu said that while Chen is safe and at a location far from his home, the only option left for him might be to flee to the United States.

Citing sources close to Chen, Fu said more than two dozen military police arrested Chen's older brother and nephew Friday morning, the same day Chen allegedly went into U.S. protection. Those sources also say Chen's wife, daughter and mother still are under tight house arrest.

U.S. President Barack Obama's top counterterrorism advisor, John Brennan, said Sunday Mr. Obama will do whatever he thinks is in the best interest of the United States, as well as the individuals involved. Brennan would not confirm whether Chen is in U.S. custody, but reiterated the importance of U.S -China relations.

Chen, a lawyer and activist, was arrested after documenting abuses in China's policy on restricting the size of most families. He disappeared April 22 from a village in the eastern province of Shandong, although authorities did not realize he was missing until last Thursday. It is not clear where he went, but his friend and fellow activist Hu Jia said he believed that Chen was admitted into the U.S. embassy Friday.

U.S. diplomats there declined any comment, and a spokesman for the Chinese government said he knew nothing of the reports.

The development comes days before U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner are due to visit Beijing for annual talks.

In a video posted online Friday, Chen detailed the abuses he and his family have allegedly suffered in his year-and-a-half under house arrest. He also called on Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to investigate human rights abuses in China.

Chen, who campaigned against forced abortions under China's “one child” policy, had been held under house arrest since he was released from a four-year prison sentence in September 2010.