Cheng Guangcheng, the blind human rights activist who escaped house arrest and was widely believed to be under the protection of the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, is seeking medical treatment at Chaoyang hospital in Beijing and has reunited with his family, according to a senior U.S. official.
Sources tell ABC News that U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke, Legal Advisor to the Department of State Harold Koh and Assistant Secretary of State for Asian and Pacific Asian Affairs Kurt Campbell escorted Chen to the hospital where was reunited with his wife, Yuan Weijing, and their two small children. It is not known how long Chen will remain at the hospital. U.S. officials will continue to be able to meet with him while he is there.
China is demanding an apology from the U.S. for allowing Chen to enter the embassy. U.S. officials continued to decline to comment on his whereabouts until Wednesday, but in a statement the Chinese Foreign Ministry has said that Chen spent six days at the U.S. embassy and left of his own volition.
The unexpected diplomatic crisis has arisen at a sensitive time. The news of Chen's whereabouts came just hours after Secretary of State Hilary Clinton arrived in Beijing to attend the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue. Top level officials on both sides have been locked in intense meetings on the fate of Mr. Chen for days.
The U.S. has long called for human rights reform in China, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton singling Chen out by name in the past.
Topics expected to be addressed at the SED meetings include nuclear proliferation in Iran and North Korea, currency evaluation and international trade; key issues on which the U.S. is seeking more significant Chinese support. The Republican administration is also accusing the U.S. of being "soft" on China, further complicating finding a resolution on Chen's future.
Dissident sources emphasize that Chen does not want to leave China for the U.S. and never sought asylum. Hu Jia, a friend and fellow activist, told ABC News the Chen firmly believes that staying in China is critical to his fight against corruption and injustice. Chen only entered the U.S. Embassy, Hu said, because his supporters believed the police were aware he was in Beijing and they could no longer keep him safe.
Outside Chaoyang hospital Jian Tianyong, a human rights lawyer who has worked with Chen in the past, told ABC News that he received a phone call from Chen once he had arrived at the hospital. Jian said that Chen is still in poor health and has been in need of medical attention for several years.
Chen first came to international attention in 2005 for exposing the abortions and forced sterilizations of women in China's rural communities as part of the country's One Child Policy. In 2006 he was sentenced to more than four years in prison for likely trumped up charges of disturbing public disorder.
Upon his release he was placed under extrajudicial house arrest at his home in Dongshigu. On Sunday April 22 Chen made a daring escape from what he has described in videos released online as a brutal house arrest in Shandong Province.
The whereabouts of He Peirong, the young activist who drove Chen to Beijing, remains unknown. Sources in the dissident community say she was last heard from on Friday April 27 and is believed to be in police custody.