As the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue talks are set to begin, it looks as if one issue has already been taken off the list of disagreements that loom over this year's discussions.
U.S. and Chinese negotiators have worked behind closed doors at the U.S. embassy in Beijing to defuse the controversy surrounding dissident Chen Guangcheng. Chen has now been released from the U.S. embassy and is seeking medical attention at a Beijing hospital along with his wife. American embassy officials said on Wednesday that the Chinese government has given guarantees that Chen will be protected as he remains in China, they but did not elaborate on the specifics of the protection he would be afforded.
Nevertheless, they took care to praise Chinese negotiators in the process, saying their counterparts had worked intensely and with humanity. Western media have reported the return of a Chinese dissident from U.S. embassy protection into Chinese custody as historically unprecedented.
Chen has remained adamant throughout the entire process that he would seek to remain in China, though U.S. human rights groups have questioned whether he would be adequately protected there.
Western media and NGOs reported that Chen, a blind self-taught lawyer, escaped house captivity on April 22 from his hometown in Shandong province and subsequently sought asylum with the U.S. embassy in Beijing. U.S.-based Chinese human rights organizations believed he and his wife suffered beatings at the hands of guards posted to watch over his house, possibly with the sanction of local officials.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who may have also been staying in the embassy, said she was 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, Clinton said.
However, many in China will remain angered by the actions of the U.S. embassy after it harbored Chen, seeing it as a interference in the country's domestic affairs.
Comments from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign affairs, translated by Xinhua, said: It should be pointed out that Chen Guangcheng, a Chinese citizen, was taken by the U.S. side to the U.S. embassy in Beijing via abnormal means, and the Chinese side is strongly dissatisfied with the move.
The government spokesman added that what the U.S. side has done has interfered in the domestic affairs of China, and the Chinese side will never accept it.
Whether the issue will remain a major point of contention between the U.S. and China seems increasingly unlikely as larger trade, defense and geopolitical issues take precedence over the next two days in pre-scheduled high-level talks between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and their foreign policy and economic counterparts in China.