Chen Guangcheng, pictured here with his family, had been under house arrest since his release from prison in 2010. (Internet photo)
Sources from the US state department and the US embassy in Beijing have confirmed that the blind civil rights activist Chen Guangcheng is currently under diplomatic and consular protection at the embassy but has not asked for political asylum, reports Duowei News, a Chinese-language media outlet.
Chen, a lawyer well-known for his stance against forced abortions and sterilizations under China's one-child policy, escaped from house arrest at his residence in Dongshigu village in the eastern province of Shandong on April 22 before being driven by supporters to the US embassy in Beijing.
Duowei's sources inside the embassy and the state department say that Chen has not requested political asylum and is merely seeking temporary protection.
Duowei claims that the Chinese government has been urgently trying to get in touch with Chen inside the embassy to negotiate a solution acceptable to both sides. The country's Ministry of Civil Affairs has been appointed to lead the charge, with the Family Planning Commission, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Public Security all providing support.
Sources say officials from the Ministry of Civil Affairs have already entered the embassy in an effort to understand what it is that Chen wants. Chen was imprisoned in August 2006 for four years and six months for "damaging property and organizing a mob to disturb traffic" and has been under house arrest since his release in 2010. Local authorities reportedly employed closed circuit television surveillance and deployed as many as 60 people to guard Chen and his family around the clock, beating up anyone who got too close. Despite this, Chen was said to have taken advantage of a bathroom break by one of the guards to jump over the wall and walked blindly along the country road for hours before meeting up with fellow activist He Peirong, who drove him to the US embassy in Beijing.
Duowei says it understands that Chen's complaints are not against the government itself but only relate to its family planning policy and his illegal house arrest, which is why the Family Planning Commission and the Ministry of Public Security are also involved.
Hu Jia, another dissident who was involved in Chen's escape, also told reporters that Chen is currently at the embassy and said that Chinese security officials have suggested that Chen has already met with the US ambassador, Gary Locke.
Hu said when officials interrogated him over the weekend over his involvement in the affair, he was asked "when" Chen had met with Locke. "So it seems very clear that he has met with the American ambassador," he said. "I had no way of answering. I do not know what is going on inside."
"But when I heard this I was very surprised and excited," Hu added.
The widely publicized incident is regarded as highly embarrassing to the Chinese government, which has been dealing with the fallout of the Bo Xilai affair. The downfall of the former party chief of Chongqing was triggered by the failed attempt by the city's police chief Wang Lijun to seek asylum at the US consulate in Chengdu in February. Both cases are said to signify a lack of trust in the government and has damaged the country's reputation, Duowei reported.
The timing of the Chen case is highly sensitive as the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, and the treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, are due to visit Beijing on Thursday for economic talks. Bloomberg has reported that the trip will not be canceled despite the recent events.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong-based Oriental News Daily reported that the arrival in Beijing on Sunday of Kurt Campbell, the US assistant secretary of state, is believed to be related to the Chen affair, though Campbell has refused to disclose his itinerary or discuss the case. The paper's sources claim that Beijing and Washington are currently conducting high-level talks which may lead to China permitting Chen and his family to defect to America, though Chen himself has said that he wants to stay in China to serve his people against the regime.
The Washington Post says the incident has put the US in an "uneviable diplomatic position," especially as Chen's civil rights background and his character are different to that of Wang, who was formerly a high profile police "enforcer" and a senior official, making it easier for the US side to say that he was not in need of asylum (though in fact no such statement was ever made). The New York Times also reported that if the US offers Chen consular protection it will be very awkward for the Chinese government, which will not necessarily allow Chen and his family to leave the country.
John Brennan, a counterterrorism adviser to President Obama, told Fox News on Sunday that the president will be trying to find a balance between maintaining US-China relations and upholding the country's commitment to human rights.
Chen Guangcheng 陳光誠
He Peirong 何培蓉
Hu Jia 胡佳
Wang Lijun 王立軍