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China: Upcoming Strategic and Economic Dialogue may be overshadowed by Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng's case

Updated On: May 02, 2012

 It has been confirmed that Chinese dissident Chen Guangchen left the US embassy yesterday to check into a hospital. Mr. Chen is currently trying to appeal to US President Obama and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to grant him political asylum in the US. However, his decision to do so varies distinctly from his previous sentiments to remain in China, and has put the US at a diplomatic crossroads.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that "at every opportunity, [Mr. Chen] expressed his desire to stay in China, reunify with his family, continue his education and work for reform in his country". She added that US diplomacy was thus "directed at putting him in the best possible position to achieve his objectives". 

Ms. Clinton did not raise the case directly when meeting with Chinese officials for the talks, but alluded to the issue of human rights, remarking that "all governments have to answer our citizens' aspirations for dignity and the rule of law and that no nation can or should deny those rights." 

China has demanded an apology from the US for its handling of the situation, citing "interference in Chinese domestic affairs" as "totally unacceptable to China". 

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US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Beijing today in preparation for Thursday’s Strategic and Economic Dialogue, which US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner will also attend. The annual high-level meeting will span two days and involve senior officials from the US and China, both of which are recognized as two of the world’s largest economies.

However, overshadowing the diplomatic relations between the two countries this past week has been the issue of Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng. Mr. Chen, a blind lawyer known for his stance against forced sterilization and abortion in China, was previously held under house arrest in a small eastern village for more than 18 months, but escaped two weeks ago to Beijing. According to reports by friends and family, Mr. Chen is now seeking refuge at the US Embassy, although both US and China have refused to confirm or comment on this.

US President Barack Obama declined to make a statement on the issue, saying that he would only like to point out that “every time [the US meets] with China, the issue of human rights comes up”. Likewise, Ms. Clinton would not speak about the specifics of the case, but said that the US sought an “effective, constructive, comprehensive relationship” that includes speaking “frankly” about areas which the two countries do not agree on, such as human rights. In an effort to contain the situation, the Obama administration sent Assistant Secretary to State for Asia affairs Kurt Campbell to Beijing last Sunday, in hopes that the issue will be resolved before the dialogue takes place.

There have been differences in opinions among political analysts, some of whom see Mr. Chen’s case as a threat to diplomatic relations between the two countries since it will be hard for the two sides to stay focused on geostrategic and economic issues in the upcoming meeting should the issue not be resolved. Others suggest that the media is merely overdramatizing the case, and believe that both countries will somehow manage to settle the matter as humanly as possible without tarnishing the image of either.

The Obama administration has reported that limited military talks between the US and China will begin today, as a prelude to tomorrow’s dialogue, and will cover cyber warfare and maritime issues.

Report: In crisis over dissident, US sends official to Beijing [New York Times, 29 April 2012]

Report: Chen affair could overshadow US-China economic talks [CNN, 1 May 2012]

Report: Secretary Clinton all but mum on Chen Guangcheng case [Los Angeles Times, 30 April 2012]

Report: Chinese activist wants to go to US [CNN, 3 May 2012]