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Deal to return escaped activist tests U.S.-China ties
Updated 5/3/2012 1:18 AM ET
BEIJING — The decision by U.S. officials to release blind human rights activist Chen Guangcheng back into Chinese society after his daring escape from local authorities creates a crucial test for U.S.-China relations as a two-day diplomatic dialogue opened here today.

Six days of shuttle negotiations resulted Wednesday in Chen's decision to leave U.S. Embassy protection for a hospital room, where he was reunited with his family and surrounded by Chinese government officials after assurances that he would not be harmed.

It took only hours, however, for the deal announced by State Department diplomats to come under question from Chen's friends and activists, many of whom said they feared for his safety — and for Chen to tell the Associated Press he agreed to the deal under duress and to plead for help from the U.S. "I would like to say to President Obama— please do everything you can to get our family out" of China, he told CNN.

STORY: Experts: Blind activist episode will lead to more incidents

The entire episode occurred shortly after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived for the fourth annual Strategic and Economic Dialogue with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and their Chinese counterparts and threatened to overshadow the talks between the two nations, which already have a delicate relationship.

It added a layer of complexity to a diplomatic mission for Clinton that already includes discussions of arms sales, maritime security and trade and intellectual property rights issues. "All governments do have to answer to citizens' aspirations for dignity and the rule of law," Clinton said in her opening statement today.

China's President Hu Jintao said at the talks that China and the United States "must know how to respect each other" even if they disagree.

David Lampton, director of the China Studies Program at Johns Hopkins University's Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, said U.S.-China relations are the most complicated they have been since the Tiananmen Square uprising in 1989.

In the deal, Chen agreed to leave the embassy with the promise that he would get medical treatment, reunite with his wife and two kids, be relocated from the village where he alleges mistreatment by local authorities and be allowed to attend a university, two U.S. officials involved in the talks said. At no time did he request political asylum in the USA, said the officials, who spoke on background because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

Chen later told the AP that he was warned by U.S. diplomats that Chinese authorities threatened to beat his wife to death if he did not leave the embassy. U.S. officials said their Chinese counterparts threatened only to send his family back home if he remained there. " Chen made the decision to leave the embassy after he knew his family was safe," Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell said.

China has demanded an apology from the U.S. for helping Chen. The U.S. has not apologized.

Posted 5/2/2012 10:14 PM ET
Updated 5/3/2012 1:18 AM ET
Blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng, left, is helped by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell, right, as they leave the U.S. Embassy for a hospital in Beijing Wednesday.
AP
Blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng, left, is helped by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell, right, as they leave the U.S. Embassy for a hospital in Beijing Wednesday.