Biden says Chinese activist's future is in America

Chinese activist activist Chen Guangchen
Chinese activist activist Chen Guangcheng (L) is seen in a wheelchair pushed by a nurse at the Chaoyang hospital in Beijing on May 2, 2012.
AFP/Getty Images

MICHELE SALCEDO, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Vice President Joe Biden says he believes that Chinese legal activist Chen Guangcheng's future is in the United States.

Chen, who escaped house arrest and fled to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, has a tentative deal with the Chinese government to study in the U.S. and bring his family. He has an invitation to come to New York University.

Biden tells NBC's "Meet the Press" that U.S. officials "expect the Chinese to stick to that commitment."

Biden says that when Chen came to the embassy, he wanted to be reunited with his family and remain in China -- just not in his village. Biden says that was arranged, but when Chen left the embassy for a hospital, he had a change of mind and "we got to work."

President Barack Obama's political adviser, David Axelrod, told ABC's "This Week" that the U.S. is "making some progress" to help Chen "to achieve his goal" to come to the U.S. He criticized presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney for "blunderbussing around, trying to score political points when we're in the middle of that process."

While campaigning last week, Romney said the administration had "failed" to protect the blind Chinese dissident by factoring in political considerations into the negotiations that ultimately led him to leave the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. The White House has said the president wasn't concerned about the politics of the case.

Romney said if reports that the U.S. communicated implicit threats to Chen as he was deciding whether to leave the embassy are true, that represents a "dark day for freedom" and "shame for the Obama administration."

Arizona Sen. John McCain said there were clearly some missteps in working with Chen, but the priority now should be on getting him to the United States, while recognizing that those who helped Chen get to the U.S. Embassy may be in danger.

"People are being arrested. There's other people who helped Mr. Chen get to the American embassy. We've got to focus a lot of attention on them, as well. But first priority is to get him out of there and to the United States," McCain said. He made his comments on ABC's "This Week."

On Sunday, Chen, his wife and two children were still inside a Beijing hospital where he is receiving treatment for injuries suffered during his bold escape two weeks ago from his rural farmhouse. U.S. officials spoke by phone to Chen and his wife at the hospital, a U.S. Embassy spokesman said.

A self-taught lawyer, Chen, 40, spent most of the last seven years in prison or under house arrest in what was seen as retribution by local Chinese authorities for his activism against forced abortions and other official misdeeds. His wife, daughter and mother were confined at home with him, enduring beatings, searches and other mistreatment.

His escape from house arrest to the fortress-like U.S. Embassy last week put Washington at the center of a sensitive human rights case.

After traveling to Beijing with the help of rights advocates, Chen contacted the embassy, and Ambassador Gary Locke sent a car to pick him up. During Chen's anxious six days inside, Locke said he spent up to five hours a day with him, trying to reassure him. After Chen initially decided to remain in China and be reunited with his family at a Beijing hospital, Locke accompanied him and was photographed holding his hand as they entered the hospital.

Chen later said he felt abandoned at the hospital when he realized no U.S. Embassy staff had stayed to ensure his safety.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.)