China official mum on escaped activist

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IOL news Chen Guangcheng AP In this file image, blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng is seen on a video posted to YouTube Friday, April 27, 2012 by overseas Chinese news site Boxun.com. Photo: AP

BEIJING - A senior Chinese diplomat declined to comment on Saturday on unconfirmed reports that blind activist Chen Guangcheng had fled into the U.S. embassy in Beijing.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai said the question did not come within the scope of the news briefing, which was about high level talks next week in Beijing between the United States and China.

“So I have no information to give you,” he said when asked about Chen, a blind rural campaigner whom supporters have said escaped house arrest and is probably inside the U.S. embassy.

Chen's reported escape comes days before China and the United States hold high-level talks in Beijing. The U.S. government has not commented on Chen's whereabouts.

Chen, a self-schooled legal advocate who campaigned against forced abortions, had been restricted to his village home in Linyi in eastern Shandong province since September 2010 when he was released from jail.

His confinement and relentless surveillance with his family fanned protests by Chinese sympathisers and criticism from foreign governments and activist groups.

Chen's reported escape and the furor it has unleashed could add to the headaches of China's ruling Communist Party, which is striving to ensure stability and authority before a leadership transition later this year.

It also threatens to overshadow a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who are due to visit Beijing next week for the annual “strategic and economic dialogue” between the two countries.

Asked whether any issue could force the meeting to be cancelled or postponed, Cui said he had already stated the event would be going ahead as scheduled.

“I don't know why you'd ask the question,” he said. - Reuters


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