Chinese Dissident Leaves U.S. Embassy In Beijing

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in China for meetings that were planned to be about trade and security. But before she even left for China, blind dissident Chen Guangcheng, who escaped from house arrest last week, was the main topic. Guangcheng has not asked for asylum.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steve Inskeep.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene. We are following developing news this morning, in China. The Chinese dissident who sought protection with American diplomats in Beijing is now free and apparently, heading to a new life.

INSKEEP: Chen Guangcheng is a human rights lawyer, a blind man who became involved in issues like forced abortion in China. Last week, he escaped house arrest by Chinese security forces.

GREENE: He sought refuge with U.S. Embassy officials. And by doing so, he sparked a possible diplomatic crisis.

INSKEEP: But now we're told that officials from both countries have sorted out his fate.

GREENE: NPR's Louisa Lim joins us now from Beijing. And Louisa, what is the latest?

LOUISA LIM, BYLINE: Well, it's been a very dramatic afternoon here. Events have happened very fast, and we're really only now beginning to get the details. But what we do know is that Chen Guangcheng was taken to a hospital. He was escorted there by American officials, including Ambassador Gary Locke. And he met his wife and his children and his lawyer at that hospital. And it's clear that a deal has been done; that he's left the embassy of his own volition, after getting certain assurances.

And we've just heard more details from senior U.S. officials - that Chen actually asked to remain on Chinese soil. He did not want to seek asylum. And he left the embassy on the understanding that he would be treated humanely in China; and that he would be relocated elsewhere, to some safe environment away from his home province of Shandong, where he's been held under house arrest. And there were also promises made that he would be able to study at university. He's a self-taught lawyer, and he's always wanted to study law. So it looks, as well, as if that will be happening.

And one more interesting point is that American officials did admit that they helped him get into the U.S. Embassy. No details of that were given, but they did say their actions were lawful.

GREENE: This, of course, after American officials were not discussing this case for some time - several days, in fact. You know, it sounds like such a symbolic display to have American officials walking alongside him. But I wonder if - you know, how both sides are handling the awkwardness of this. There still seems to be a fundamental disagreement over human rights in China - between China and the United States.

LIM: Yes and - I mean, there is a fundamental disagreement - on paper, at least - about this case. I mean, we are hearing quite an angry response from the Chinese. The Foreign Ministry spokesman, Liu Weimin, said that China was extremely dissatisfied with the U.S. for allowing Chen to enter the embassy in such an irregular fashion. And he said the American behavior constituted interference in China's internal affairs. And they actually demanded an apology.

So far, the U.S. response has been that this is an extraordinary case, and they don't anticipate that it will be repeated. But so far, there hasn't yet been an apology. But that could become a bone of contention.

INSKEEP: Well, given the way that the Chinese government does insist on non-interference in its internal affairs, I'm surprised to hear you say, Louisa, that the Chinese were even willing to give any assurances in this man's case. What kind of assurance can there be, that he would be safe in the days and weeks ahead?

LIM: Yes. Well, I mean, that's the big question. And I think a lot depends on how this now plays out. The very fact that he was escorted to hospital by not one, but at least three American officials, does seem to show that there was some nervousness about his release, and that they were doing this in - at as high-profile a fashion as possible. So I think we'll - really, it's just a question of waiting and seeing how - whether the Chinese do do as they have promised.

And then also - talk of an investigation into what happened in his province. So it will be interesting to see how far that goes.

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