US PRESIDENT BARACK Obama has refused to publicly discuss the case of the prominent Chinese lawyer who escaped from house arrest last week but has urged China to improve its human rights record.
Obama was speaking when asked for the first time about the case of Chen Guangcheng, a blind activist, who slipped out of his home last month and later reportedly turned up at the US embassy in Beijing.
His presence there complicates a visit to China by the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner later this week.
Speaking at a news conference yesterday, Obama did not discuss the case but is quoted as saying: “We think China will be stronger as it opens up and liberalises its own system.”
Quoted by the Guardian, he said that he believed his country’s relationship with China would be “more prosperous and strong as you see improvements on human rights issues.”
A senior US diplomat from the State Department, Kurt Campbell, has reportedly flown to China to hold what BBC News reports is “highly delicate negotiations” with Chinese authorities over the case of Chen with one of the options on the table being for the lawyer to go into exile.
Chen was placed under house arrest in Shandong province in 2010 following four years in jail for disrupting traffic and damaging property. He had been and continues to be a prominent human rights activist advocating for people with disabilities.
He has also spoken out against China’s controversial one-child policy and has criticised alleged forced abortions and sterilisation in Shandong province along the east coast of the country.
So sensitive is the case, the New York Times reports that American officials and diplomats are not even confirming widespread reports that Chen is inside the US embassy.
Clinton and Geithner are due in China on Wednesday for talks that will centre on the annual US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue but could now be dominated by the Chen case.