Chen hopes to fly with Clinton

Chen hopes to fly with Clinton

Chen hopes to fly with Clinton

Chen (in wheelchair) meets with his family as US ambassador to China, Locke (facing camera, 3rd R), and US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs Campbell (facing camera, 4th R) stand nearby in a hospital. AP photo

United States officials said yesterday they are still trying to help a blind Chinese activist who says he wants to leave China for the U.S. as he fears for his family’s safety.

Chen, 40, initially said he had assurances that he would be safe in China, which is what U.S. officials said he wanted, but hours later he said he feared for his family’s safety unless they are all moved abroad out of China. His family, who were with him at the hospital, supports his decision to try and reach the U.S. He also said he felt pressured to leave, both by Chinese and U.S. officials. However, in a press conference U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke said that he could say “unequivocally” that Chen was never pressured to leave.

“My fervent hope is that it would be possible for me and my family to leave for the U.S. on Hillary Clinton’s plane,” Chen told in an interview with the Daily Beast website. “I think we’d like to rest in a place outside of China,” Chen said, appealing again for help from Washington. “Help my family and me leave safely.” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland acknowledged that Chen and his family wanted to leave the country and said they were in talks with him on his options. “It is clear now that in the last 12 to 15 hours they as a family have had a change of heart on whether they want to stay in China,” Nuland said in Beijing.

Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin repeated China’s stance that the U.S. handling of Chen’s case was “irregular” and “unacceptable.” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton found herself in the eye of the diplomatic storm, turning up for the opening of annual bilateral talks in Beijing which have been overshadowed, but not derailed, by the Chen case. She used the occasion to urge China to protect human rights, but made no specific mention of Chen.

China’s defense minister heads to US

China’s President Hu Jintao told the gathering that China and the U.S. “must know how to respect each other” even if they disagree. Chen became an international human rights figure and inspiration to many ordinary Chinese after running afoul of local government officials by exposing forced abortions and sterilizations carried out as part of China’s one-child policy.

Meanwhile, China’s defense minister will visit the U.S., officials said May 2, despite the controversy in Beijing over the fate of Chen. The U.S. Defense Department announced that Gen. Liang Guanglie will arrive today on a weeklong visit. He will meet May 7 with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and travel to U.S. military bases. The Obama administration has sought closer U.S.-China military ties, saying it will help build a cooperative relationship between the two powers.

Compiled from AFP, AP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.