But just hours later, a friend of Chen’s tweeted a clarification of the dissident’s words. Chen, the friend said after speaking to him by phone, had tried to tell Clinton: “I want to see you” — suggesting not merely gratitude for the American intervention but also a desire to secure an even higher guarantor against possible mistreatment by Chinese authorities.
And so a remarkable drama, begun more than a week earlier when Chen escaped from house arrest in his provincial village and made his way toward the U.S. Embassy, culminated not in the diplomatic coup of an American-brokered deal but in confusion.
Chen left his American protectors behind soon after making his request for a hearing with Clinton and was admitted to a hospital for treatment of a foot injury incurred during his escape. Despite promises from the Chinese government that Chen and his family could live in peace, plainclothes Chinese agents reportedly surrounded Chen in his hospital room.
With Chen’s fate suddenly unclear, his attorney soon accused China of reneging on the deal that hours earlier had been hailed as a triumph.
“The Chinese government has made many promises on many things, but they never keep their promises,” said the lawyer, Teng Biao.
Seeking a more normal life
The incident began, State Department officials said, when Chen, a self-taught lawyer and an internationally known dissident who publicly criticized Chinese policies on abortion and forced sterilzations, turned up at the U.S. Embassy injured and pleading for help. Despite the risks to diplomatic relations, Chen — who hurt himself while climbing a wall during his escape in Shangdong province — was granted admission on what U.S. officials described as “humanitarian grounds.”
“We assisted Mr. Chen in entering our facilities and allowed him to remain on a temporary basis,” a senior State Department official told reporters.
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive events, declined to elaborate on how Chen was able to enter the walled, closely watched U.S. compound. But he said the activist was given medical tests and “appropriate treatment.”
Chen made clear from the start that he wished neither to stay in the embassy nor to flee to the United States, the official said. Instead, Chen wanted U.S. help in guaranteeing the safety of family members who he believed were at risk of persecution because of his escape. He also asked that his family be relocated to a new home in China, far from the provincial village where he said his family was being imprisoned and mistreated by local authorities.