News / Asia

China Criticizes US Role in Dissident Case

In this photo released by the U.S. Embassy Beijing Press Office, blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng is wheeled into a hospital by U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke, right, and an unidentified official at left, in Beijing, May 2, 2012.In this photo released by the U.S. Embassy Beijing Press Office, blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng is wheeled into a hospital by U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke, right, and an unidentified official at left, in Beijing, May 2, 2012.
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In this photo released by the U.S. Embassy Beijing Press Office, blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng is wheeled into a hospital by U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke, right, and an unidentified official at left, in Beijing, May 2, 2012.
In this photo released by the U.S. Embassy Beijing Press Office, blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng is wheeled into a hospital by U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke, right, and an unidentified official at left, in Beijing, May 2, 2012.
Stephanie Ho
Chinese newspapers are stepping up their criticism of dissident Chen Guangcheng, who fled to Beijing last month, and the United States, which harbored him for six days in the embassy.  

Although Chen Guangcheng's saga dominated international media coverage of last week's high-profile talks between Washington and Beijing, the story has been largely ignored by Chinese news media and censored on Chinese blogs and social media.

The few editorials in state-backed newspapers addressing the issue have largely focused on criticism from China's Foreign Ministry about Washington's role in the affair.

On Monday, an opinion piece in the English language version of the Global Times newspaper accuses the United States of using Chen as a pawn in what it describes as a “plot against China".  An opinion piece in the China Daily accuses the United States of violating international law in bringing Chen into the embassy at all.

Chinese officials said Friday Chen is free to apply to travel overseas, but Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei focused Monday on repeating China's displeasure with the United States.

He accuses the United States of interfering in China's internal affairs. He also urges the American side to draw a lesson from the incident and take what he calls “concrete actions to maintain the overall interests of U.S.-China relations.”

At the same time, he did not repeat Beijing's calls for Washington to apologize.

U.S. officials have already called the incident “extraordinary” and say they do not expect it will be repeated.

Chen is an activist who was jailed for four years for speaking out against sterilizations and abortions forced on residents by family planning officials. After he was freed from prison in 2010, he was kept under heavy surveillance, and reportedly even beaten, at his home in Shandong.

Monday's Global Times opinion piece says the blind legal activist's imprisonment a few years ago was not because of his work helping disadvantaged people, but because of a local conflict over water rights.

The report says Chen clashed with his neighbors because he dug a well that sucked water out from their wells. Numerous attempts to reach Chen Monday were unsuccessful.

Chen made a dramatic escape from house arrest last month and re-materialized at the U.S. embassy in Beijing. He is still receiving treatment from injuries sustained during his escape at a Beijing hospital.

Friend and fellow dissident He Peirong told Reuters in a Skype interview Monday that Chen planned the escape from his heavily-guarded house arrest all by himself.

She says he sometimes took rest in a pig sty or in a crop field and that he jumped over many walls.

She says she received an email from a Chen family member after he had left and then later helped drive him to Beijing after he had escaped from his village.

New York University law professor Jerome Cohen says he hopes reports that Chinese officials have met with Chen in recent days is a good sign. “We hope that the signal given on Friday by the Foreign Ministry will now be followed through on and will lead to his expeditious departure and arrival in this country,” he said.

Cohen, who helped advise Chen before the activist decided to leave the U.S. embassy last week, says he hopes Chinese officials also are discussing the circumstances of Chen's return to China. New York University has offered Chen a fellowship.

Chen says he hopes Beijing will let him and his family travel to the United States without fresh troubles, but adds he is not sure how long it will take for him to make his travel arrangements. Vice President Joe Biden says the United States is prepared to give Chen a visa “right away.”

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