The saga has been set against the backdrop of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, a biannual summit attended by both Ms. Clinton and Chinese President Hu Jintao that has coincidentally been taking place in Beijing this week and which ends Friday. Mr. Chen’s case quickly pushed the important economic talks about trade imbalances and the valuation of China’s currency to the sideburner in negotiations.
Mr. Chen’s case has also become part of the U.S. presidential race. Leading Republican contender Mitt Romney said Thursday that the U.S. Embassy’s decision to let Mr. Chen leave into an uncertain situation was “a dark day for freedom” and a “day of shame” for the administration of President Barack Obama.
In the interview, Mr. Chen said that he wanted to publicly thank Mr. Obama and Ms. Clinton. “I hope they will continue working for human rights and continue providing help to me. I still need their help.” He credited Ms. Clinton with negotiating the “unprecedented” deal that convinced him to leave the embassy.
The saga to date has also been influenced by the shifting political ground in China. Mr. Chen thrust himself into the international spotlight at a time when the ruling Communist Party is publicly divided ahead of a highly sensitive power transfer – during which seven of the nine members of the all-powerful Standing Committee of the Politburo are expected to retire to make way for a new generation of leaders – this fall.
One faction, of whom Mr. Wen, the premier, is the most prominent, believes China desperately needs a more open political system, one in which activists like Mr. Chen would conceivably have more freedom to speak and promote their causes. The other, which is linked to the security services that detained and threatened Mr. Chen, believes tight control is necessary to maintain Communist Party rule.
With files from Reuters