UK & World News
Blind Activist Wants To Flee China For Safety
The blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng has told Sky News he no longer feels safe in his own country and wants to go to the United States.
Mr Chen, speaking from hospital, says he is concerned despite a deal with the US that led him to leave the refuge of the American embassy in Beijing.
"It's not safe because the rights of citizens here can't be guaranteed," he told Sky's Asia correspondent Holly Williams in the Chinese capital.
Asked why he had suddenly changed his mind about staying in China, he added: "I didn't have the information, I couldn't get information. Now I have it and I sense certain things so I've changed my mind."
Later, US state department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland revealed that American officials had spoken twice on Thursday with Mr Chen and his wife and "they as a family have had a change of heart about whether they want to stay in China".Ms Nuland said diplomats need more talks with the Chen family to decide on options, in a move expected to further antagonise Chinese authorities.
China's foreign ministry called the US handling of the case "irregular" and "unacceptable", but declined to comment on Mr Chen's desire to leave the country.
On Wednesday, it harshly condemned the behaviour of US embassy staff.
Mr Chen claimed his wife and children had been threatened by local officials.
"The (local officials) broke into my home armed with sticks and wanted to beat my family to death," he claimed.
"They have installed seven video surveillance cameras in our garden, on the roof, and inside our house. And they're going to install an electric fence around my house."
The controversy over the dissident's safety continues to overshadow talks between US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and officials in the Chinese capital.
At the start of meetings on Thursday, Mrs Clinton did not address Mr Chen's plight directly but stressed that China had to respect human rights.
"We believe all governments have to answer our citizens' aspirations for dignity and the rule of law and that no nation can or should deny those rights," she said.
Her comments came as Mr Chen pleaded for more help from Washington.
The blind, self-taught lawyer took refuge at the embassy and received first aid treatment for a leg injury after escaping house arrest but left on Wednesday for a hospital.
He initially said he had been assured he would be safe in China but hours later said he feared for his family's safety unless they were spirited abroad.
China had already demanded an apology from the US even before Mr Chen backtracked from the deal that he would remain in his homeland.
Now that he wants to leave and is directly seeking American assistance, the case could become even more difficult for the US delegation in Beijing.
Chinese President Hu Jintao said at the start of the talks that China and the US "must know how to respect each other" even if they disagree.
"Given our different national conditions, it is impossible for both China and the United States to see eye to eye on every issue," he said.
"We should properly manage the differences by improving mutual understanding so these differences will not undermine the larger interests of Sino-US relations."
Washington had hoped the deal it brokered on Wednesday, which would have seen Mr Chen's family relocated and him allowed to continue his studies, would resolve the crisis.
However, it is unclear whether he could travel to the US. Having left the embassy and the protection of American diplomats, his fate is now in the hands of the Chinese authorities.
Mr Chen had already made a personal appeal to President Barack Obama to help him leave China with his family.
The activist is a self-taught legal advocate who campaigned against forced abortions under the country's one-child policy.
Blinded by childhood fever but intimately familiar with the terrain of his village in the rural Shandong province, Chen slipped out of his guarded farmhouse at night on April 22 - ending 19 months of house arrest.
He made his way through fields and forest, along roads and across a narrow river to meet the first of several supporters who helped bring him to Beijing and the embassy.
It took three days for his guards to notice that he was gone.
His situation raises wider questions about the US-China relationship and could prove costly for Mr Obama, who has already been accused of being soft on China by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.