NEW: U.S. diplomats are scheduled to visit Chen in hospital on Friday
"I want them to keep their commitment," Chen says of Chinese officials
U.S. officials are trying to get a "clear view" of Chen's position
Chen says he wants to go to the United States to "recuperate"
U.S. diplomats are scheduled to visit the Chinese activist at the center of an international crisis Friday after he told U.S. lawmakers that he wants to leave China for the United States.
The Chinese comments came as U.S. diplomats spoke with Chen in the hospital. The officials also met with Chen’s wife, Yuan Weijing, according to a senior State Department official who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Since leaving the embassy for the hospital on Wednesday, Chen has made several pleas to be allowed to leave China, adding confusion and complication to the diplomatic firestorm over his future.
“China pledged to guarantee my constitutional rights and called me a free man,” Chen said, speaking from his hospital room in the early hours of Friday in Beijing to congressional commission members who listened by speakerphone in Washington, 12 times zones and thousands of miles away.
“I want them to keep their commitment by allowing me to travel abroad to recuperate,” Chen said. “I want to go to the United States and rest for a while, since I haven’t had a Sunday in seven years.”
The 40-year-old blind, self-taught lawyer added that he wants to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “to thank her in person.”
Chen said he was worried about his relatives in his hometown in the eastern province of Shandong, which he fled last month. He said he has not been able to contact some of them and blamed local Chinese officials for his living situation there.
“They have installed seven surveillance cameras in my house,” he said. “In addition to have the guards stay in my place, they are building an electric fence around my house. They even scoffed, ‘Let’s see what this blind guy can do to us.’ “
He asked that Congress help him ensure his relatives’ legal rights are respected. “This is what concerns me greatly right now,” he said.
In a telephone interview with CNN, Chen expressed optimism that U.S. officials would act on his behalf.
Last month, the activist escaped house arrest in Shandong and made his way to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, but left it Wednesday for medical treatment in a Beijing hospital, where he was reunited with his wife and two children.
When Chen left the embassy, U.S. officials announced that they had worked out a deal with China for his future and that Chen was leaving of his own free will.
The officials said the Chinese government had committed to relocate Chen to a “safe environment” away from the province where he and his family say they had suffered brutal treatment by local authorities. In addition, the officials said, China agreed to investigate those allegations of mistreatment and promised Chen would face no further legal issues.
Under the agreement, Chen was to be granted the opportunity to pursue university studies in the safe location. Locke said one of the proposals “allowed for the possible transfer some day to an American college or university.”
But Chen subsequently indicated he regretted having abandoned the embassy and made pleas through CNN and other international news organizations to U.S. leaders to get him out of China.
From the hospital, Chen said he had spoken by phone on Thursday with U.S. representatives who had also met with his wife, Yuan Weijing.
Chen disputed the suggestion that he had a change of heart about staying in China after he left the U.S. Embassy.
Chen said Friday that he wanted to focus on getting treatment for his foot and for other unspecified ailments.
On Friday, Chen mollified his tone compared with the comments he made a day earlier, when he said he was “very disappointed” in the U.S. government because he felt American officials had lobbied for him to leave the embassy and abandoned him at the hospital.
Chen said embassy officials told him later Thursday that Chinese security officials had prevented them from entering his hospital room.
Instead, he expressed “deep gratitude” to American officials in Beijing for having treated him “extremely well” during his six-day stay in the embassy.
The Chinese activist who walked out of the U.S. Embassy in Beijing on Wednesday after what officials said was a decision he had made on his own said Thursday that he regrets the move and now wants U.S. officials to help get him and his family to the United States.
Chen was referring to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who arrived Wednesday for trade talks and found herself in the middle of a diplomatic firestorm.
Chen’s comments left the U.S. government battling to defend the deal it brokered with the Chinese authorities over Chen, with human rights advocacy groups questioning whether China would uphold its side of the bargain.
U.S. officials in Beijing said Thursday they would continue to help Chen where possible, but that the decision to leave the embassy had been his own.
“I can tell you unequivocally that he was never pressured to leave,” Locke told reporters.
The United States will do what it can to help Chen and his family leave China if that is what they want to do, a senior U.S. State Department official said, but added that Washington doesn’t have “a magic wand” to get him out of the country.
“We do not yet have a full view of what he wants to do at this stage,” the official said. Once a clear understanding of Chen’s desires has emerged, “we will do what we can to help him achieve that,” the official added.
“There are ongoing discussions happening in Beijing,” a senior administration official told CNN. “Can’t comment beyond that.”
“The United States government and the American people are committed to remaining engaged with Mr. Chen and his family in the days, weeks and years ahead,” Clinton said Wednesday in a statement.
Human rights advocacy groups, meanwhile, questioned whether Beijing would stick to its promises about Chen’s future, noting that several of his friends and family members have been detained or are unaccounted for.
“There are serious concerns over whether the Chinese government will honor commitments it made to the U.S. government to not persecute Chen and his family members,” Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
ChinaAid, a Texas-based Christian human rights organization, said it remained concerned about Chen’s relatives and other human rights figures in China.
Chinese officials did not comment on what deal may have been reached. Comments reported by state media focused on “interference” by Washington.
“This is totally unacceptable to China,” Liu Weimin, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said in comments reported Wednesday by the state-run news agency Xinhua. He demanded an apology from the United States.
Nevertheless, senior officials from the two countries – including Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner – met Thursday in Beijing for scheduled talks about strategic and economic issues.
In a speech, Clinton referred to human rights without mentioning Chen. “As part of our dialogue, the United States raises the importance of human rights and fundamental freedoms because we believe that all governments do have to answer to citizens’ aspirations for dignity and the rule of law and that no nation can or should deny those rights,” she said.
On the Chinese side, President Hu Jintao said Washington and Beijing “should approach our differences in a correct way, and respect and accommodate each other’s interests and concerns.”
Chen had been confined to his home for 18 months after serving four years in prison, apparently over his legal advocacy for what he called victims of abusive practices such as forced abortions and sterilizations by China’s family planning officials.
Yuan said she does not want to raise her children in China, where she said they would have no future. She said guards at the hospital would not allow her to leave and appealed to Clinton to intervene.
“If we stay here or get sent back to Shandong, our lives would be at stake,” she said.
CNN’s Jill Dougherty, Dan Lothian, Eunice Yoon, Jethro Mullen and Stan Grant contributed to this report.