US. and Chinese officials on Thursday called for measures to deepen trust at the start of an annual strategic dialogue, a day after the two grappled with a major diplomatic crisis over the case of Chinese lawyer and activist Chen Guangcheng.
The fate of the visually challenged rights campaigner remained unclear on Thursday after it emerged that he had expressed strong reservations about a deal reached by U.S. and Chinese officials to arrange his leaving of the American Embassy in Beijing, following a six-day stand-off with Chinese authorities.
U.S. officials came under strong criticism from activists on Wednesday after Mr. Chen revealed that he had actually wanted to leave China along with his family, and only agreed to exit the embassy after Chinese officials threatened to send his wife back to their home village in Shandong, where she had been beaten by local security personnel in recent days.
Mr. Chen spent Thursday at a hospital here, which was surrounded by dozens of police personnel. He is receiving treatment for injuries sustained during his daring escape from Dongshigu village, where he had been kept under illegal house arrest for more than a year and a half on account of his legal activism against forced abortions.
U.S. officials on Thursday mounted a defence of the deal they reached with Chinese officials, saying Mr. Chen had changed his mind after agreeing to a deal to enroll in a university in China following assurances by authorities over the safety of his family.
“He made it very, very clear from the very, very beginning that he wanted to stay in China, that he wanted to be part of the struggle to improve the human rights within China, and to gain greater liberty and democracy for the people of China,” Ambassador to China Gary Locke told reporters. A senior State Department official told reporters at a background briefing that officials were “endeavouring to clarify whether his position has changed and what he now wants”. Regardless of what transpired on Wednesday, the U.S. still faces a tricky diplomatic situation following Mr. Chen's request to leave China. China has hit out at the U.S. for taking in Mr. Chen, and has demanded an apology for interference in its internal affairs.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Liu Weimin's comments appeared to suggest China would not be likely to consider Mr. Chen's request to travel overseas. “We have said that the U.S. took a Chinese citizen into the U.S. embassy via abnormal means,” he said, adding that the embassy had to “abide by international laws and Chinese laws and regulations, and not do anything inconsistent with its duties”.
The case has overshadowed the fourth round of the annual Strategic and Economic Dialogue. While both Chinese and U.S. officials did not directly mention his case, they made calls for greater trust.
“To build a new type of relations between China and the United States, we need to trust each other,” said Chinese President Hu Jintao at the start of the dialogue. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appeared to play down the impact of Mr. Chen's case, not mentioning the lawyer at the start of the talks.
She stressed that the U.S. “welcomes China's increased engagement on the highest priority regional and global issues”. She highlighted the two countries' common goals of “preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon” and “to end the brutal violence against civilians” in Syria, and said the U.S. “recognised the role that China is playing…to make it clear to North Korea that strength and security will come from prioritising the needs of its people, not from further provocation.”
She did add, without mentioning Mr. Chen, that the U.S. would raise the importance of human rights as part of the dialogue, “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”.