The blind Chinese activist who escaped his house arrest to seek protection from the United States has now left the American embassy, apparently ending a tricky diplomatic dilemma for both sides. Previously, neither the U.S. nor the Chinese governments would confirm that Chen Guangcheng had been received at the U.S. embassy, but American ambassador Gary Locke called The Washington Post on Wednesday to say that he was personally taking Chen to a Beijing hospital for treatment. Locke's confirmation of Chen's whereabouts came just hours after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in China for a planned economic summit.
The Associated Press also reports Chen has "received clear assurances" from the Chinese government that he is now a free man and can return to his family. It's hard to say how valuable those assurances are, since Chen was supposed to be a free man when he left prison two years ago and then was placed on lockdown by local security forces. There have been suggestions that his house arrest was the work of angry local province officials and was not explicitly condoned by Beijing. However, Chen did say in a videotaped plea after his escape, that he wanted to remain in China with his family and the U.S. confirms that he did not ask for asylum.
What remains to be resolved now is the matter of American officials apparently intervening, if inadvertently, in China's domestic affairs for the second time this year. The Chinese foreign ministry is reportedly demanding an apology from the U.S. for taking Chen in. Earlier this year, American officials briefly welcomed another government official who attempted to blow the whistle on the Bo Xilai scandal. He was later released back to Chinese custody. Though both sides had hoped to resolve the matter before today, it may be up to Clinton to smooth things over and put the issue to rest.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.