Clinton arrives in China for top-level talks amid blind activist row

 Pro-democracy protesters wearing sunglasses, hold placards with picture of  blind Chinese legal activist Chen Guangcheng, third left, with his family...

Hong Kong China Blind Lawyer

Pro-democracy protesters wearing sunglasses, hold placards with picture of blind Chinese legal activist Chen Guangcheng, third left, with his family...

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived Wednesday in China for an annual meeting that aims to cement relations and discuss issues ranging from security to economic ties.

The talks, beginning Thursday, risk being overshadowed by the case of a blind Chinese activist said to be under US protection after fleeing house arrest.

Clinton has not commented on the escape of Chen Guangcheng, who is believed to be at the US embassy in Beijing. But she said that she would discuss human rights issues with Chinese officials.

“A constructive relationship includes talking very frankly about those areas where we do not agree, including human rights,” Clinton said Monday before leaving for China.

US President Barack Obama told a news conference that he was “aware of press reports” on the issue, but would not make a statement on it.

Chen was placed under house arrest in Shandong province in 2010 after spending more than four years in jail for disrupting traffic and damaging property.

The Obama administration has signaled that the global economy, North Korea, Iran and Sudan — issues in which millions of lives are at stake — are more important in US-Chinese relations. And it is refusing to say if Chen will even be a topic of discussion this week.

But facing a tough fight for re-election in November, Obama cannot afford to ignore the situation. Doing nothing to help a visually impaired, self-taught lawyer who has fought against forced abortions and corruption in China would open Obama to attacks from his presumed Republican opponent Mitt Romney.

Romney and several Republican lawmakers already have demanded that Obama not back down to Beijing. Handing over Chen without adequate safeguards would also draw intense criticism from the human rights community in the United States, one of Obama’s core constituencies.

“The U.S. government has a moral obligation to ensure that Chen Guangcheng, his family and any who aided his Houdini-like escape from house arrest are either granted asylum in the United States or are not mistreated if any of them choose to stay in China,” said Frank Jannuzi, head of Amnesty International’s Washington office.

Bob Fu of the Texas-based group ChinaAid, who has been in touch with people close to Chen, said Tuesday he had no direct word from the lawyer’s wife and two children, but understood from people living in the same locality that they were still at their home in Shandong province.

Chen’s older brother, Chen Guangfu, is still missing, he said. Rights activists say the brother was detained last week.

But Chen’s nephew, Chen Kegui, has contacted a human rights lawyer and does not appear to be in custody, Fu said. He had reportedly gone missing last Friday after a confrontation with men outside his house in the same village.

The key to resolving the situation may well rest with an aging cadre at the top of China’s Communist Party, who could either promise protection for Chen and his family in China or allow him to leave the country, possibly even to Hong Kong or Macao, as they prepare for their own leadership transition later this year.

Activists say Chen prefers to stay in China if his safety and that of his family can be guaranteed. That would require national leaders to step in and protected Chen from local officials, who’ve kept him and his wife confined at home since his September 2010 release from four years in prison on charges that supporters say were fabricated.

Updated : 2021-02-27 03:42 GMT+08:00