Clinton Heads to China Amid Dissident Controversy

Posted May 1st, 2012 at 12:45 am (UTC-5)
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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is traveling to China for high-level talks expected to be overshadowed by the fate of a blind Chinese dissident who has escaped house arrest and is reportedly under U.S. protection.

Clinton did not comment on the case of Chen Guangcheng before leaving Washington late Monday. But she told reporters that human rights would be discussed during the talks.

“A constructive relationship includes talking very frankly about those areas where we do not agree, including human rights. That is the spirit that is guiding me as I take off for Beijing tonight.”

Earlier Monday, President Barack Obama also refused to answer questions about the whereabouts of Chen, who is rumored to have fled to the U.S. embassy in Beijing.

“Obviously, I am aware of reports on the situation in China. But I am not going to make a statement on the issue. What I would like to emphasize is that every time we meet with China, the issue of human rights comes up.”

The top U.S. diplomat for East Asia, Kurt Campbell, arrived in Beijing Sunday and is expected to talk with Chinese officials about Chen ahead of the annual Strategic and Economic Dialogue, which begins on Thursday.

Bob Fu is the head of the U.S.-based ChinaAid group, which has been the main source of information on Chen. Fu said Monday that U.S. and Chinese officials were working on a deal to allow Chen to flee to the United States with his family.

“The latest I'm hearing about Mr. Chen is both the U.S. and the Chinese government are engaging in very intensive diplomatic negotiation over Chen's fate and I learned the top U.S. and the top Chinese government officials had been deliberating a rather quick solution.”

Speaking to VOA late Sunday, Fu said Chen is safe and at a location far from his home. 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.

Chen, a lawyer and activist, received a four year jail sentence in 2006 after documenting abuses in China's policy on restricting the size of most families. Since 2010, he has been held under house arrest. 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.

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.