US Defends Deal as Chen Guangcheng Begs to Leave with Clinton
(BEIJING) -- United States officials are defending the deal they reached with the Chinese government concerning the fate of blind human rights activist Chen Guangcheng, while the dissident is now begging to leave the country with Hillary Clinton when she departs Beijing.
After escorting Chen, who sought protection from the U.S. after making a daring escape from extrajudicial house arrest, to a Beijing hospital on Wednesday where he is receiving medical treatment and was reunited with his family, the U.S. believed it had succeeded in reaching an unprecedented diplomatic agreement. All sides agreed Chen would be allowed to remain in China with his family to pursue a course of study at a Chinese university.
But within a matter of hours, Chen claimed he had a change of heart.
"I wanted to stay in China in the beginning," he told ABC News. "But now I have changed my mind."
He is now begging to be allowed on Secretary of State Hilary Clinton's plane when she departs Beijing, saying that his fervent hope is to for him and his family "to leave for the U.S. on Hilary Clinton's plane."
U.S. officials in Washington and Beijing confirm the Chinese conveyed the message that they would not allow his family to remain in Beijing if Chen did not leave. He was informed of this and soon after agreed to the deal and said he was ready to go. State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland said that at no time did a U.S. official speak to Chen about physical or legal threats to his wife and children.
"He was never pressured to leave," U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke said on Thursday in Beijing. He added that Chen was asked at one point if he wanted asylum and he said no.
But a picture is emerging of a vulnerable man who may have inadvertently compromised a deal several U.S. officials say was the very best they could do, given the desire Chen expressed to stay in China.
Several sources within both the dissident network of Chen's supporters and on the U.S. side say that Chen remained supremely focused on remaining in his home country with his family where he believed he could continue to fight for his cause.
Chen became best known for his 2005 campaign again the forced abortion and sterilization of rural women in China as part of the country's One Child Policy. He served four years in prison for disturbing public order and was then placed under what he has called a brutal house arrest, including constant surveillance, isolation and abuse.
Because he was injured during his escape and is blind, U.S. officials say they agreed to pick him up in an embassy vehicle and escort him onto embassy grounds. En route to the rendezvous point, the Americans noticed they were being tailed. Turning into an alley, Chen was pushed out of one car and pulled into the other before it sped away. What followed were direct meetings with the Chinese up to three times a day, according to details provided by the U.S. Embassy.
In the final hours of negotiation, Chen had asked that his family be brought to Beijing as an act of good faith by the Chinese government.
The Chinese put his wife, Yuan Wiejing, and two small children on a high speed train to Beijing. When she arrived the two were able to speak for the first time since his escape. And as the clock ticked down, it was Yuan who urged him to leave.
Chen agreed, and photos released soon afterwards show a smiling team of U.S. Officials surrounding an exuberant Chen. But the celebration would not last long.
Whether the U.S. can or is willing to seek further negotiations is unclear, but unlikely given China's public statements on the matter thus far. A Foreign Ministry spokesman has demanded that the U.S. apologize for the incident for the good of relations.
Secretary of State Hilary Clinton addressed a conference in Beijing on Thursday where she emphasized the importance of a partnership between the U.S. and China on global issues, but did not mention Chen by name. Chen remains at the hospital in Beijing with his family. Online reports by his friend Teng Biao released by the State Department say he has been in touch with U.S. officials.
Speaking to ABC News Thursday morning, Chen said, "If I can leave China, I will."
Whether that is even a possibility at this point remains unclear.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio