In Turn, Chinese Activist Wants To Leave Country

May 3, 2012
Originally published on May 9, 2012 9:43 am
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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Audie Cornish. U.S. diplomats are struggling to figure out what to do with a dissident in China who has had a change of heart. Until yesterday, Chen Guangcheng was under U.S. diplomatic protection at the American embassy in Beijing. During his stay, diplomats say they negotiated arrangements with the Chinese government to allow Chen to stay in China and study law.

SIEGEL: He then left the embassy voluntarily for hospital treatment and to be reunited with his family. But it wasn't long before Chen made clear that he wanted out of the country, and soon. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports on Chen's reversal, and how the State Department is trying to manage the diplomatic fallout.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Just hours after Chen was taken to a Beijing hospital and reunited with his family, he started raising doubts about the arrangements the U.S. negotiated for him. He told NPR that he's been hearing worrying news from his home village in Shandong Province.

CHEN GUANGCHENG: (Through interpreter) I know that the situation in my home is very bad. I can't get in touch with my family in my village at all. I don't know what's happened to my mother. There are guards inside the yard, in all the rooms, even on the roof. They've set up lots of cameras in my home and are preparing electric fences. They told my family they'd take wooden sticks and beat my family to death, so it's very unsafe.

KELEMEN: Chen, who was injured during a dramatic escape from house arrest last week, wants Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is here for high level talks with China, to get him out of the country.

GUANGCHENG: (Through interpreter) I hope that I can go to the U.S. for treatment as soon as possible. I hope that Clinton can help me and my family get passports.

KELEMEN: Clinton's staff won't say what options the U.S. is considering, and point out that China would have to give him permission to leave. Clinton spokesperson Victoria Nuland says diplomats were able to talk to Chen by phone a couple of times today, and his wife came out of the hospital to talk to embassy officials about their change of heart.

Officials who had spent hours with Chen while he was in the embassy say he never asked for asylum, nor was he pressured to leave. Ambassador Gary Locke recalls the moment when Chen decided to go, after he spoke with his wife on the phone.

AMBASSADOR GARY LOCKE: We asked him: What did he want to do? Did he want to leave? Was he ready to leave? And we waited several minutes, and then suddenly, he jumped up very excited, very eager and said, let's go - in front of many, many witnesses.

KELEMEN: Ambassador Locke says the U.S. embassy was prepared to host Chen for as long as he wanted, but the dissident also knew that if he stayed, Chinese authorities would send his family home. And according to the ambassador, Chen's wife urged him to take the deal.

LOCKE: She was imploring him to come to the hospital, to be reunited with the family, and saying that there will always be uncertainties and we need to take first steps. But we don't want - you know, we need to keep the struggle going, and we have to take it a step at a time.

KELEMEN: As diplomats debated what they could do next to help the dissident, Secretary Clinton kept up her schedule trying to manage the broader relationship with China. She barely touched on human rights at the opening session of the strategic and economic dialogue.

SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: Now, of course, as part of our dialogue, the United States raises the importance of human rights and fundamental freedoms, because we believe that all governments do have to answer to citizens' aspirations for dignity and the rule of law, and that no nation can or should deny those rights.

KELEMEN: She has one more full day of talks on everything from the economy to Iran, North Korea and Sudan before she flies out on Saturday. Chen Guangcheng and his family are hoping they won't be left behind. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Beijing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.