Hillary Clinton and Timothy Geithner Will Not Cancel China Trip

Geithner, Clinton Won’t Cancel China Trip

By Bloomberg News – Apr 28, 2012 5:48 PM GMT+0100

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner have no plans to cancel their trip to China because of the reported U.S. protection of a fugitive Chinese activist, according to a State Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Earlier this week, legal activist Chen Guangcheng escaped house arrest in Shandong province, where he had been held since his release from prison in September 2010, Midland, Texas-based ChinaAid, a U.S.-based human rights group, reported on its website.
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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner attend the U.S delegation press conference following the China-U.S. Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Beijing on May 25, 2010. Photographer: Feng Li/Getty Images

Chen, who is blind, is now under U.S. protection and talks are taking place between the U.S. and China about his status, ChinaAid’s founder Bob Fu said in an e-mail today, citing people close to the situation that he didn’t identify. Earlier the group had said he was in a safe location in Beijing.

Clinton and Geithner are due to arrive in Beijing for annual talks May 3-4. The trip won’t be canceled because of Chen or because of consideration being given by the U.S. to selling Taiwan new Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT) F-16 fighter jets, the State Department official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issues.

“This all looks to me like a brewing, perfect storm test for relations,” Chris Johnson, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington and former senior China analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency. “These strategic and economic dialogue talks, that substantively probably would have been inconsequential, suddenly become the most important test for Sino-U.S. relations for the Obama administration thus far in its tenure.”

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai, speaking in Beijing today, said he had “no information” about Chen.
Strained Relations

Events this year have already strained U.S.-Chinese relations, including “the Chinese early support for the Assad regime in Syria; North Korea’s satellite launch and a presumed nuclear test; this guy running to the consulate — it’s just one thing after another,” Johnson said.

“When you layer onto the cake as well that the White House sent a letter to Senator Cornyn of Texas noting that they would take a second look at possible new F-16 fighter aircraft sales to Taiwan in order to get Senator Cornyn to lift his hold on the appointment of Mark Lippert as the new assistant secretary of defense for East Asia” the Geithner-Clinton trip becomes “a very tricky situation,” he said.
Lockheed F-16 Sale

A Lockheed F-16 jet sale “warrants serious consideration given the growing military threat to Taiwan,” Robert Nabors, the White House’s director of legislative affairs, said in a letter yesterday to Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican.

China, which insists that Taiwan be reunited with the mainland by force if necessary, has cut military contacts with the U.S. in the past over American arms sales to the island.

Johnson said the timing of Chen’s escape alone will encourage “those who are so inclined in China” to view the event as part of a “conspiracy to stifle China’s rise, and so the hardliners in the regime are going to see the walls closing in and that this was all planned by the U.S.”

“And then of course it was leaked by us to the media,” he said. Public knowledge of Chen’s escape is “a massive embarrassment” for the Chinese and means “they have got to react probably a little more stern.”

A U.S. Embassy spokesman in Beijing said he had no information on Chen’s status when contacted by Bloomberg News today.
Pivotal Moment

“This is a pivotal moment for U.S. human rights diplomacy,” Fu said in the e-mail. “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.”

“Dear Premier Wen, I’ve escaped after trying so hard,” a man who claimed to be Chen and resembled him said in a video that was posted on YouTube yesterday, in a reference to Premier Wen Jiabao. “I am free now, but I am still very worried because my beloved wife and son are still under the devilish hands.”

ChinaAid hopes the administration will honor Chen’s wishes, ensure his safety and make sure his family doesn’t suffer reprisals, Fu said.
U.S. Alarm

The U.S. has taken up Chen’s case in the past. Clinton mentioned him in a speech in November, saying the U.S. was “alarmed” by his continued house arrest and calling on China to “embrace a different path.”

ChinaAid’s statement yesterday said Fu has been in touch with Chen’s friends and family and was told that Chen wanted to remain in China. He wants “a normal life as a Chinese citizen with my family,” according to the statement.

Chen was jailed for more than four years after helping villagers resist forced abortions, rights groups including the New York-based Human Rights in China say. After his release in September 2010, he and his wife were confined to their home in the village of Dongshigu.

Chen is a self-taught lawyer who was blinded by a fever in infancy, the Associated Press reported. He Peirong, an activist who has led a campaign to free Chen, picked him up and drove him to a “relatively safe place,” the AP quoted her as saying.

Human Rights in China, citing a “knowledgeable source” that it didn’t identify, has said that Chen’s nephew, Chen Kegui, was taken from his home by more than 30 policemen yesterday. Chen Guangfu, Chen Guangcheng’s older brother, was taken away a day earlier, the group said in an e-mailed statement.

Five lawyers went to Dongshigu village to assist the Chen family, the organization said in an e-mailed statement dated yesterday.

Phelim Kine, senior Asia researcher at New York-based Human Rights Watch, said in a statement that Chen’s case “highlights the yawning divide between the government’s lofty rhetoric about rule of law and the far grimmer reality endured by people like Chen who challenge the status quo.”

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