Some China experts said they saw the pledges from Beijing not only as a human rights achievement but as an indication that — as in the recent case of Chongqing party leader Bo Xilai or last year’s ouster of corrupt local leaders in a strife-torn southern town — the central government wants to assert its authority over renegade or corrupt provincial authorities.
In addition, the agreement appeared to take Chen off the bilateral agenda. American officials released a photograph showing a smiling Chen with U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke and insisted that the activist left the embassy of his own volition.
Looking to leave China?
But friends of Chen criticized U.S. officials for leaving him unaccompanied at the hospital, where he was treated for a foot injury. Adding to the confusion, Chen told several reporters by phone from his hospital bed that he now wanted to move to the United States with his family.
Under intense international scrutiny, U.S. diplomats scrambled to provide their version of events.
“I was there,” Kurt Campbell, the State Department’s top diplomat for East Asia, said in a statement. “Chen made the decision to leave the Embassy after he knew his family was safe and at the hospital waiting for him, and after twice being asked by Ambassador Locke if he was ready to go. He said, ‘Zou’ — let’s go. We were all there as witnesses to his decision, and he hugged and thanked us all.”
Locke said the U.S. Embassy was prepared to house Chen for years, if that was what he wished, but that Chen insisted on leaving the embassy to be reunited with his wife. He spoke on the phone twice with his wife on Wednesday, said Locke, and she implored him to leave and join his family at the hospital.
Speaking at a press conference Thursday, Locke emphasized that the goal of U.S. officials was to determine what Chen wanted and then help him get it by acting as go-between negotiators with the Chinese government.
“He made it very, very clear form the very, very beginning that he wanted to stay in China, that he wanted to be part of the struggle, to improve the human rights within China and to gain greater liberty and democracy for the people of China,” Locke said. “We asked him, ‘Do you want to go to the United States?’ He said no.”
Locke said Chen wanted his wife to be brought to the hospital, where he would talk with her on phone and decide whether to leave the embassy or stay.