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Future Unclear For Escaped Chinese Activist


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Robert Siegel. The story of a prominent dissident in China appears to be getting more complicated. Earlier today, Chen Guangcheng left the U.S. Embassy in Beijing where he had sought protection after escaping from house arrest. He went to a hospital where he could receive medical care and reunite with his family.

CORNISH: And that's where it seems the complications arose. U.S. officials thought they had made a deal that ensured his safety and allowed him to remain in China as he wanted. But since talking with his family, the dissident says that he fears for their safety and wants to leave for the United States with them as soon as possible. NPR's Michele Kelemen has this story on Chen's situation and the diplomatic dilemma it poses.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: China's Foreign Ministry is denouncing the U.S. for meddling in its internal affairs and is demanding an apology. But U.S. officials will only say this:

KURT CAMPBELL: This was an extraordinary circumstance with very unusual parameters, and we don't expect it to be repeated.

KELEMEN: That's Kurt Campbell, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs. He's been here in Beijing since the weekend, working out arrangements so that Chen Guangcheng could live in China with, quote, "a little more safety."

CAMPBELL: There are no guarantees, and China is moving into a period of enormous complexity. But, you know, as they say, this is the life that he has chosen. And I think one of the reasons why we were so emotional when we said goodbye to him today is, first of all, he's a deeply inspirational figure, but also, it's a hard life. He was, today, reunited with a son and a daughter. We were proud of that, that we accomplished that, but at the same time, his future will have enormous challenges undoubtedly.

KELEMEN: Chen and his friends tell a different story, saying he had to leave the embassy or his family would be taken back to the village where he had been under house arrest. The Associated Press says this is Chen speaking by phone from the hospital saying he fears for his family's safety and now wants to leave China.

CHEN GUANGCHENG: (Through Translator) Of course, I think that if you can guarantee security, I still hope to stay, but I think now there's no hope for that.

KELEMEN: Kurt Campbell told NPR that that was not the impression Chen gave in many hours of conversations.

CAMPBELL: Every single discussion was about the possibility of how to go back and live a more normal life in China and what we could do to help in that effort. Never once did he talk about asylum or coming to the United States. I do believe that he has anxiety about the period ahead, but I also know from my discussions with him that he feels that the United States and the people that he's worked with and others and nonprofits, just an enormous number of supporters will be behind him as he goes forward. And I think, in this set of circumstances, that's the best you can ask for.

KELEMEN: Chen, who's blind, injured his foot last week when he jumped over a wall to escape harsh treatment and house arrest in Shandong province. He made his way to Beijing and then, with U.S. help, entered the embassy, where he had medical attention. He's been a champion of the disabled and has fought against forced abortions. Campbell says his talks with Chinese officials about Chen have been unbelievably intense.

CAMPBELL: I could sense very clearly that they wanted a positive outcome, and I think that there are many people in the Chinese government that feel that Mr. Chen has not been treated well by his provincial government, and they were - the Chinese government was very clear from the outset that they were prepared to do an investigation. And the fact that they brought his family members who had been taken from him quickly to Beijing, I think, is a testament of goodwill.

Are there going to be challenges? Yes. But at the same time, I also believe fundamentally that he wanted to go back to China. He wanted to play a role in one of the most exciting periods of Chinese - of China's history, and one can only be impressed by that.

KELEMEN: Chen's case threatened to overshadow Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to China for high-level security and economic talks. Emerging from a dinner with U.S. and Chinese officials, Campbell says there was a feeling of satisfaction along with exhaustion around the table. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Beijing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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