Blind activist overshadows US-China meeting | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 02.05.2012
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Blind activist overshadows US-China meeting

The Chinese foreign ministry has said that the blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng has voluntarily left the US embassy in Beijing. His case is overshadowing US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to China.

An unnamed senior US official has also confirmed that Chen has "arrived at a medical facility in Beijing where he will receive medical treatment and be reunited with his family."

Chen, a 40-year-old blind lawyer, who exposed force abortions in China, had been under house arrest until 10 days ago, when it was reported that he had somehow escaped and come under US protection.

It wasn't immediately clear what caused Chen to leave the embassy, but his presence there, which previously had not been confirmed by US officials, had threatened to overshadow a visit to China by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Clinton arrived in Beijing a few hours earlier, where she is scheduled to hold strategic and economic talks with Chinese officials on Thursday and Friday.

Chen Guangcheng

Chen Guangcheng is thought to have gone to the US embassy in Beijing

Chen's escape, Beijing's distrust

Chen's case has made Thursday's talks even more difficult, which would have been difficult anyway. "Beijing suspects the US could be involved in Chen's escape," China expert and political commentator Willy Lam told DW, adding, "And, they don't want to make the impression that they will give in to American pressure."

The last time a Chinese dissident sought cover at an American embassy was in 1989. After the state's bloody crackdown on the democracy movement, physicist Fang Lizhi fled to the embassy, where he was granted asylum. He stayed at the embassy for a whole year before Beijing grated him the permission to travel to the US.

A US dollar and Chinese yuan yell at each other

Experts have referred to a 'strategic distrust' between Washington and Beijing

'Strategic suspicion'

But the world has changed dramatically since then. In 1989, China was a developing country. Today, it is the world's second largest economy. The only thing that trumps the growth of China's monetary reserves is its self-confidence. China wants to play on the same field as the US. But both countries distrust the other. A recent study conducted in cooperation with the American think tank Brookings and Peking University speaks of mutual "strategic suspicion."

But it cannot be due to a lack of communication. Both countries hold talks at over 60 different levels. The annual Strategic Economic Dialogue (SED), which started in 2009, is the most significant forum.

This year's dialogue comes at a critical time. US presidential elections will be held in November, and China will also install a new leadership this fall at its 18th party congress. The closer both dates get, the less flexible and accommodating the politicians are likely to be.

Global issues

The US Seventh Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge arrives in Danang, Vietnam, 23 April 2012

The US is increasing its presence in the Asia Pacific region

Aside from Chen Guangcheng, a number of global issues will be discussed. Willy Lam said he expected Obama's government to ask China for more help to stop the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs. He also said Washington would be likely ask China to assume a more resolute stance on the Syrian conflict. And he said Beijing was worried about the new US strategy in the Pacific; President Obama received Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda in the White House on Monday (April 30) and with Philippine Foreign Secretary Alberto del Rosario and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin appealed for US and international help in its territorial dispute with China at a meeting with their counterparts Hillary Clinton and Leon Panetta.

The tension is growing in the South China Sea, where a number of countries have overlapping claims to certain territories. These conflicts are expected to be on Thursday's agenda.

Chen's case might be solved by then. According to a New York Times report, a high-ranking official from the American defense ministry was in Beijing on Saturday to negotiate a quick solution to his predicament.


Author: Matthias von Hein / sb
Editor: Shamil Shams

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