BEIJING (AP) — A blind legal activist who fled house arrest in his Chinese village is under the protection of American officials, overseas activists said Saturday, putting the U.S. in a difficult position days ahead of a visit by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Chen Guangcheng, who has exposed forced abortions and sterilizations in villages as a result of China's one-child policy, escaped a week ago from his guarded home in Shandong province in eastern China. Chinese-based activists say he was driven away by supporters and then handed over to others who brought him to Beijing.
The U.S. and Chinese governments have not confirmed reports that he sought protection at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.
A Texas-based activist group that has been active in promoting Chen's case said that China and the U.S. were in high-level communication about the 40-year-old.
"Chen is under U.S. protection and high-level talks are currently under way between U.S. and Chinese officials regarding Chen's status," said a statement from the ChinaAid Association. It cited a source close to the situation.
Chen's whereabouts could be a major political complication for the two countries, with Clinton and other top U.S. officials due to arrive in China for the latest round of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue that begins Thursday.
The U.S. Embassy in Beijing declined to comment Saturday, as have U.S. officials in Washington.
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai told a briefing earlier Saturday on the upcoming talks with the U.S. that he had no information on Chen's case.
"Your question does not come within the scope of today's briefing. So I have no information to give you," he said when asked about Chen.
ChinaAid's founder, Bob Fu, said Chen's case was a benchmark for the United States and its human rights image around the world.
"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," he said in the statement.
"If there is a reason why Chinese dissidents revere the U.S., it is for a moment like this," Fu said.
But the case comes as the United States is looking for help from China on many issues around the world, such as trying to restrain North Korea and Iran on their nuclear ambitions, and push Syria to observe a cease-fire in the fighting in that country. Bilateral disputes over trade, China's currency and U.S. relations with Taiwan are also issues that likely will be part of the talks scheduled for Thursday and Friday.
Fu and Chinese-based activists say Chen slipped away from his intensely guarded home on the night of April 22. His wife and 6-year-old daughter are still there.
Chen recorded a video as a direct address to Premier Wen Jiabao, condemning the treatment of him and his family and accusing local Communist Party officials by name. Activists sent the video Friday to the overseas Chinese news site Boxun.com, which posted part of it on YouTube.
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