Blind lawyer’s escape to test US-China relations

Blind lawyer’s escape to test US-China relations

Blind lawyer’s escape to test US-China relations

Chinese paramilitary police officers patrol outside the US Embassy in Beijing. Chen Guangcheng is under the protection of US officials, an overseas activist group says. AP photo

Relations between China and the United States could be heading for a sharp deterioration less than a week before annual diplomatic and economic talks between the two powers after a Chinese activist reportedly sought sanctuary at the U.S. embassy April 28.

Fellow activists said Chen Guangcheng, a blind lawyer who exposed forced abortions and sterilizations as part of China’s one-child policy, fled house arrest a week ago and has sought protection at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. Chen served four years in prison and after his release in September 2010, local officials confined him to his home. After his daring escape, Chen recorded a video directly addressing Premier Wen Jiabao, accusing local Communist Party officials by name and condemning the government for their treatment of him and his family.

Many details of Chen’s escape remain uncertain, but supporters said Chen may have been aided by a sympathetic guard, the New York Times reported. As part of the plan, his wife stayed behind to distract the guards stationed outside the front door. Friends said Chen’s subterfuge was months in the making. In recent weeks, they said, he stayed in bed continuously to convince his minders that he was too weak to walk, or to try to leave.

US envoy in Beijing, Clinton expected

On April 22 night, Chen scaled the wall that had been built around his house, slipped past his security detail and made a desperate sprint to apparent safety in Beijing, report said. By April 28, three activists who had either helped him or had been advocates in the past had disappeared, including the woman who drove Chen more than 480 kilometers to Beijing and a man who admitted to meeting the dissident as he was shuttled between safe houses in the capital, the report said. The man’s wife said he was taken away by the police, it added. Neither the U.S. nor Chinese government has confirmed the reports, but the saga looks set to overshadow this coming week’s Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Beijing. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner are leading the U.S. side at the talks beginning on May 3. The top U.S. diplomat for Asia, Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, was originally due in Beijing in the coming week, but he arrived early yesterday in the capital.