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Activist’s fate puts US-China relations at risk

Published time: May 03, 2012 06:55
Edited time: May 03, 2012 14:16
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Chinese President Hu Jintao attend the opening ceremony of the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue at the Diaoyutai Guesthouse in Beijing on May 03, 2012 (AFP Photo / Mark Ralston)

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Chinese President Hu Jintao attend the opening ceremony of the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue at the Diaoyutai Guesthouse in Beijing on May 03, 2012 (AFP Photo / Mark Ralston)

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s talks to strengthen China-US ties have been marred by a dissident’s predicament. The Chinese activist has sought US asylum, but it remains to be seen if the US will risk damning relations by granting the request.

Recent events involving prominent activist Chen Guangcheng have cast a shadow over Hillary Clinton’s diplomatic visit to China this week. The blind dissident had been granted refuge in the US embassy in Beijing for almost a week, drawing the Chinese government’s ire and the statement that the US overstepped the mark by interfering.

They have demanded a formal apology from the US for harboring Chen.

Chen left the embassy on Wednesday after reportedly being guaranteed the safety of his family by the Chinese government, a decision he later regretted.

“I want to go overseas. I want the US to help me and my family. They helped me before,” he told the Associated Press by phone from a hospital in Beijing on Thursday, stressing that he “did not feel safe” in China. He had been interned in the hospital for the treatment of a leg injury.

An anonymous US official said in response to the appeal that the government was currently re-assessing the needs of Chen and his family.

Contradicting earlier reports, Chen said that Chinese officials had threatened to beat his wife to death if he did not leave the US embassy. He maintained that he had received this information through the US embassy in Beijing.

US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told the press that US officials had spoken with Chen and confirmed that “they as a family have had a change of heart about whether they want to stay in China.”

However, she said staff at the American embassy were not aware of any legal threats against Chen’s wife and children. Nuland also confirmed that the Chinese government intended to return Chen to his home province of Shandong, where he had been illegally detained and abused by local officials.

Chen fell from favor with local authorities after uncovering cases of forced abortions and sterilizations as part of China’s infamous “one child” policy.

Thus far during the two-day diplomatic talks in Beijing, Hillary Clinton has glossed over the contentious case. She did however open the negotiations, pointing the finger at China’s patchy human rights record.

"All governments have to answer our citizens' aspirations for dignity and the rule of law and that no nation can or should deny those rights," stressed Clinton.

She had previously led the international charge for his release and met with him on Wednesday before diplomatic talks.

The case has threatened to derail the progress of US-Chinese talks, during which Clinton has pushed for the strengthening or economic ties and Chinese support in curbing the nuclear aspirations of Iran and North Korea.

"It is critical that we keep the pressure on Iran to meet its international obligations, negotiate seriously, and prove that its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes," she said.

China has previously been a stumbling block in the US’s campaign against Iran’s alleged atomic weapons program. China’s is one of the nation’s number one oil-buyers and has so far turned down US calls to impose sanctions on the country.

Ron Unz, publisher of American Conservative magazine, told RT that a shift in the balance between the two superpowers meant it would be less likely for China to make "concessions" on policy. China is the number one holder of US debt and is less reliant on the US economy, drawing its resources from Australia, Brazil and the Middle East.

“The Chinese economy is growing at an enormous pace and the American economy is not. So it’s perfectly rational for the Chinese leaders to, in effect, accept these pinpricks on America’s side and just realize that in five or 10 years the Chinese’s position will be enormously stronger relative to America than there is today,” said Unz.

He attributed the stance on dissident Chen as indicative of the American government’s refusal to recognize the numerous human rights violations committed at the hands of the US around the world over the last few years.