Chen Guangcheng

Kerry phones China over dissident’s nephew, can’t reach minister

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 May, 2013, 9:52am
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 May, 2013, 9:52am

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry tried calling Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to discuss the imprisoned nephew of blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng but Wang was not available, the State Department said on Friday.

Wang was said to be in Singapore on Friday for meetings with senior officials there. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters Kerry had tried to call Wang Thursday and would follow up.

Asked if he thought it odd that Wang was not available to speak to Washington’s top diplomat, Ventrell suggested there was nothing unusual in Kerry’s failure to connect with Wang.

“Sometimes it’s time differences or travel,” Ventrell said. ”Sometimes it takes us a little while to connect with a foreign minister.”

Chinese human rights activist Chen Guangcheng, who was at the centre of a diplomatic crisis a year ago on Tuesday, has accused Beijing of reneging on the agreement that freed him and urged the United States to intervene.

Kerry wants to discuss the case of Chen Kegui, who the New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch said had been diagnosed with appendicitis and “urgently needs effective medical care.” The group said to its knowledge, Chen had not been offered surgery for the condition.

Chen was sentenced to more than three years in jail in November after a trial the United States described as “deeply flawed” and that rights activists suspect was in retaliation for his blind uncle’s escape from house arrest.

Chen was charged after using knives to fend off local officials who burst into his home on April 27, 2012, the day after they discovered his uncle had escaped from 19 months of harsh house arrest in eastern Shandong province and fled to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

Chen Guangcheng’s decision to take refuge in the U.S. Embassy was deeply embarrassing for China and led to a diplomatic tussle between the two nations before China allowed him to fly to the United States with his wife and child.

Ventrell said on Thursday that Washington was concerned about reports Chen Kegui had been mistreated in prison.