Beijing - The escape of blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, who has allegedly found refuge in the US Embassy in Beijing, has caused diplomatic embarrassment for both the United States and China on the eve of their annual high-level meeting.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell to Beijing yesterday, two days ahead of schedule, to prepare the summit still set for 3-4 May. US Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, who has been in China several times in the past few months to drum up financial support for the US, will also attend the meeting.
"We're going to make sure that we do this in the appropriate way and that appropriate balance is struck," Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan said. The administration is "working very closely with the individuals involved" to strike a balance between diplomatic concerns and a "commitment to human rights, making sure that the people throughout the world have the ability to express themselves freely" without provoking anyone.
Chen Guangcheng won worldwide acclaim for exposing forced abortions and sterilisations as well as illegal land grabs. He escaped from his home on Friday and, at present, he is believed to be in the US Embassy in the Chinese capital. In a video for Premier Wen Jiabao, he names is persecutors and slams widespread party corruption.
Hu Jia, another Chinese dissident, confirmed Chen's flight. For him, the upcoming US election in November, makes a run right now a good idea because his case will be closely followed by the media. The Obama administration has already come under pressures.
"My hope is that U.S. officials will take every measure to ensure that Chen and his family members are protected from further persecution," Mitt Romney, Obama's challenger in the November presidential election, said in a statement yesterday. The US "must play a strong role in urging reform in China and supporting those fighting for the freedoms we enjoy".
However, Obama's task will be made harder by the complexity of the China-US relationship. With Europe in a mess, no one can lose trading partners, Renmin University international relations professor Shi Yinhong suggested.
Although China still gets more out of its trade with the United States with a US$ 295 billion trade surplus last year, US exports have soared to US$ 104 billion from US $5 .8 billion in 1989.
"Both sides want to look for a solution [to the Chen incident] that is consistent with the core values of each country, while maintaining the status quo in bilateral ties," Prof Shi said.
"Beijing finds the escape of Chen embarrassing, and a tough US approach on the case will amplify such feelings. The US is well aware of that and won't play up the human rights card."