Blind rights activist Chen Guangcheng in a file photo.
DHARAMSHALA, May 1: More than a week after the daring escape of one of China’s best-known dissidents, Chen Guangcheng from his house arrest, China is yet to publicly acknowledge the incidence that has once again raised serious questions about the country’s failing rights record.
Chen slipped out of his home in Dongshigu town in Shandong province on Sunday and is widely speculated to be under the protection of the United States Embassy in Beijing, a claim that the US has not confirmed.
In a video released on Sunday, Chen, while addressing Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, urges him to ensure the safety of his family and to deal with corruption in China.
Chen, 40, had been under house arrest since he was released from a four-year jail sentence in 2010 and has been under house arrest for almost 20 months. Known as “the barefoot lawyer,” Chen lost his sight in childhood and has no formal legal training.
He is known for revealing rights abuses under China's one-child policy and has accused officials in Shandong province of forcing 7,000 women into abortions or sterilisations.
Analysts believe that Chen chose to address Premier Wen rather than President Hu Jintao or other leaders suggests he wants to challenge the Chinese Premiere to put into practice his repeated calls for political reform and action to root out corruption among officials.
The sensitive timing of Chen’s escape has formed an unwelcome backdrop for the visit of the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has in the past repeatedly called for his release and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner to Beijing for their Strategic and Economic Dialogue later this week.
US economic analysts who follow China have said that the standoff could disrupt bilateral ties or cause new difficulties for the global economic recovery.
Chris Johnson, until earlier this month the CIA's top China analyst, said Sino-U.S. relations were "almost approaching a perfect storm," citing the Bo Xilai case, Chen's apparent escape and reports that the United States is considering selling Taiwan new F-16s in addition to upgrading its existing fleet.
President Obama declined to comment directly about Chen on Monday. But he said that “every time we meet with China, the issue of human rights comes up,” adding that it was not only “the right thing to do, because it comports with our principles and our belief in freedom and human rights, but also because we actually think China will be stronger as it opens up and liberalizes its own system.”
With the news of Chen being under the protective custody of the US Embassy officials in Beijing, the Obama administration rushed to contain the growing diplomatic crisis by sending a senior diplomat to China.
The senior diplomat, Kurt M. Campbell, an assistant secretary of state, arrived Sunday to meet with Chinese officials concerning Mr. Chen’s case.
Experts believe that China is passing through its worst crisis since the 1989 Tiananmen Square students’ demonstrations, which were brutally suppressed.
In a stark parallel, following the demonstrations, another famous Chinese dissident, Fang Lizhi, spent a year in the US Embassy before finally being allowed to leave the country.
In the most recent case, Chinese Chongqing city police chief Wang Lijun fled to the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu on February 6 amid reports that he may have sought asylum, sparking a crisis that led to the ouster of the city's ruling Chinese communist party chief, Bo Xilai months before a once-in-a-decade leadership handover.