Chen Guangcheng Leaves US Embassy (Updated)

The Washington Post’s Keith Richburg reports that Chen Guangcheng has left the US embassy in Beijing in the company of American officials and is now in hospital where, according to other reports, he has been reunited with his immediate family.

Blind activist Chen Guangcheng on Wednesday afternoon was in a car with U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke, being taken to a Beijing hospital. It was the first time Chen has emerged since he escaped from house arrest in his village, Dongshigu, in Shandong province, and spent a week hiding in Beijing before making a videotaped appeal to China’s prime minister and then seeking the protection of American diplomats.

Locke called The Washington Post from his car at about 3:30 p.m. to say he was with Chen. A Post correspondent spoke briefly to Chen on the phone, who said he was fine and on the way to the hospital.

“All indications,” wrote Human Rights Watch’s Nicholas Bequelin on Twitter, “are Chen Guangcheng and immediate family are heading into exile in the US.”

Xinhua acknowledged Chen’s escape for the first time, and reported the Foreign Ministry’s indignation at the US for sheltering him.

China demands the U.S to apologize for a Chinese citizen’s entering the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry said here Wednesday.

It is informed that Chen Guangcheng, a native from Yinan County of eastern China’s Shandong Province, entered the U.S. Embassy in Beijing in late April and left of his own volition after a six-day stay in the embassy, said Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin.

According to a longer Xinhua article in Chinese, Liu said that the US had interfered with China’s domestic politics by bringing a Chinese citizen into the embassy in an irregular manner; that the embassy had a duty to abide by the relevant international and Chinese laws, and should not overstep its proper function; and that China demanded an apology, thorough investigation, appropriate treatment of those responsible, and a guarantee that no such incidents should take place in future. The US should rethink its policy and conduct, he said, in the interests of US-China relations. China, he said finally, is “a country under rule of law”.

See Chen Guangcheng a “Free Citizen” With an Uncertain Future for recent developments prior to Chen’s departure from the embassy.

Update, 12:01pm PST: According to reports last night, a deal had been brokered to allow Chen Guangcheng to remain in China as a free man. He would have been able to attend a university of his choice, it was said, with the US diligently monitoring his safety. In a State Department release, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced:

I am pleased that we were able to facilitate Chen Guangcheng’s stay and departure from the U.S. Embassy in a way that reflected his choices and our values. I was glad to have the chance to speak with him today and to congratulate him on being reunited with his wife and children.

Mr. Chen has a number of understandings with the Chinese government about his future, including the opportunity to pursue higher education in a safe environment. Making these commitments a reality is the next crucial task. The United States Government and the American people are committed to remaining engaged with Mr. Chen and his family in the days, weeks, and years ahead.

The State Department also posted photos of Chen embracing and smiling with US officials.

By Wednesday evening, however, hope of the promised outcome appeared to have collapsed. Chen and supporters reported that he had left the embassy only under the threat of violence toward his family, and he appeared to have abandoned his long-standing hope of staying in China. From The Associated Press:

Hours later, however, a shaken Chen told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from his hospital room that U.S. officials told him the Chinese authorities would have sent his family back to his home province if he remained inside the embassy. He added that, at one point, the U.S. officials told him his wife would have been beaten to death.

“I think we’d like to rest in a place outside of China,” Chen said, appealing again for help from U.S. officials. “Help my family and me leave safely.”

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement that no U.S. official spoke to Chen about physical or legal threats to his wife and children. Nor did the Chinese relay any such threats to American diplomats, she said. She did confirm that the Chinese intended to return his family to their home province of Shandong, where they had been detained illegally and beaten by local officials angry over Chen’s campaigns to expose forced abortions, and that they would lose any chance of being reunited.

The claim that promising to return the family to Shandong did not constitute a threat of violence was met with widespread derision. Human Rights Watch director Kenneth Roth stated that the two amounted to the “same thing“, Brendan O’Kane dismissed Nuland’s statement as “lawyerly parsing“, and Kellie Currie described it as “either clueless or disingenuous“.

The UK’s Channel 4 News also interviewed an emotional Chen by telephone:

“Nobody from the (US) Embassy is here. I don’t understand why. They promised to be here,” he added ….

“He sounded firm in the beginning when I ask him what he wanted to tell the world,” writes Channel 4 News producer Bessie Du. “I asked him if he told the embassy that he wanted to leave China, he said: ‘no, because I didn’t have enough information (to make a decision)’. Later he got more anxious and started crying: ‘I’m very sad..(long pause)..’ “I asked: ‘what are you sad about?’ and he said: ‘everything I’ve been through in the last few days’.

The BBC reported scorn on Sina Weibo for both the “unreliable” Americans and the “shameless” Chinese government, although the latter’s demand for an apology from the US was greeted with vocal approval by some nationalists. Meanwhile, a number of related terms such as “Chaoyang hospital” and “Gary Locke” were blocked on Weibo search.