U.S. and Chinese officials are racing to resolve the case of a fugitive human rights activist, and ensure it doesn’t derail annual talks between top policy makers later this week.
Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell arrived in Beijing yesterday, earlier than planned, to prepare for the gathering, two U.S. officials said yesterday on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner are still scheduled to meet counterparts in Beijing May 3-4 amid reports the U.S. is protecting blind activist Chen Guangcheng, according to the officials, who declined further comment.
Chen’s escape comes at a politically sensitive time for the U.S. This week, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner head to Beijing for long-planned strategic and economic talks. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell began a hurried mission to Beijing on Sunday to smooth the way for the annual talks involving Clinton and Geithner.
The U.S. has been looking to China for help on trying to curb the suspected nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran, and to push Syria toward a cease-fire with anti-government protesters. Bilateral disputes over trade, China’s currency and U.S. relations with Taiwan also were expected to surface during the talks.
While the White House has remained mostly mum on the incident — and how much it might factor into the upcoming discussions in Beijing — Brennan suggested that the diplomatic dance with China isn’t new.
"I think it would be fair to say the president has faced similar situations in the past in terms of this balancing requirement and so I’m confident that the president and others within the U.S. government will be able to find the right way forward," Brennan said.
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney expressed his concern Sunday for the safety of Chen and his family, urging U.S. government officials to offer the dissident and his family protection.
"My hope is that U.S. officials will take every measure to ensure that Chen and his family members are protected from further persecution," Romney said early Sunday in a statement. "Our country must play a strong role in urging reform in China and supporting those fighting for the freedoms we enjoy."
Romney said the incident involving Chen points toward the broader issues of human rights in China.
"Any serious U.S. policy toward China," said Romney, "must confront the facts of the Chinese government’s denial of political liberties, its one-child policy and other violations of human rights."
While Chen escaped a week ago from Dongshigu village and made it 370 miles (595 kilometers) northwest to Beijing, his wife and 6-year-old daughter were left behind. The whereabouts of several other relatives, including Chen’s mother and brother, are unknown.
Seven lawyers have volunteered to defend Chen’s nephew, Chen Kegui, who allegedly confronted and stabbed local officials who stormed his house in the middle of the night on Thursday in apparent retribution for the activist’s escape.