“He believes that China is in a period of intensive changes now, and it’s not far away from the final fundamental change,” said Hu Jia, a Beijing activist who said he met with Chen on Wednesday. “He told me he didn’t want to ask for political asylum in the U.S. Instead, he wants to ‘stay in this land and continue to fight.’ ”
U.S. foreign policy experts said that would put the United States in an unenviable diplomatic position on the eve of annual meetings on strategic and economic matters. They noted that although American diplomats have repeatedly urged senior Chinese officials to end abusive treatment of Chen, the Obama administration would not want to be drawn into negotiating the terms of Chen’s living conditions in China, which Chinese officials would likely see as interference in their internal affairs.
At the same time, experts said, U.S. diplomats do not want to see Chen leave the embassy if he is going to be detained again, an outcome that would set off an uproar in the international human rights community. As it is, several of the people who say they helped Chen during his escape have been detained, activists said Saturday.
“This is a pivotal moment for U.S. human rights diplomacy,” Bob Fu, president of the Texas-based Christian human rights group ChinaAid, said in a statement. “Because of Chen’s wide popularity, the Obama Administration must stand firmly with him or risk losing credibility as a defender of freedom and the rule of law. If there is a reason why Chinese dissidents revere the U.S., it is for a moment like this.”
Frank Jannuzi, head of Amnesty International’s Washington office, said that the past mistreatment of Chen suggests that he should not be handed back without a Chinese government commitment to respect his rights. He added: “Whether he wants to leave the country should be a choice he makes, not one forced upon him by the U.S. government or Chinese government.”
“This is one of those issues where there literally are no good options,” said Kenneth Lieberthal, a Brookings Institution senior fellow and former senior director for Asia on the National Security Council. “There is just no good way to manage this. I don’t envy the people in State and the White House who have to figure out how to walk the line on this one.”
With Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner due in Beijing on Tuesday for talks, Lieberthal said that “the best that can happen here is we negotiate an early departure from China” for Chen.