Chen Guangcheng Phones Congress, Requests 'Face-to-Face' Meeting with Clinton

Chen Guangcheng told Congress today that he wants to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton face-to-face and he requested to have his "freedom of travel guaranteed" as he looks to leave China with his family and come to the United States.

"I want to meet with the Secretary Clinton," Chen said over speakerphone as a translator conveyed his words in English. "I hope I can get more help from her. I also want to thank her face to face."

The blind Chinese activist, who generated international headlines after he took refuge in the U.S. embassy in Beijing ahead of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's attendance at a summit in China this week, phoned into a congressional hearing today to report to Congress the latest details of his predicament.

Chen, calling from a hospital room in Beijing, said he "really fears for my other family members' lives" and suspected that all of the villagers who helped him escape house arrest and get to the embassy "are also receiving retribution."

"I'm most concerned right now is the safety of my mother, my brothers and I really want to know what's going on with them," he said. Bob Fu, the founder and president of China Aid Association and a close friend of Chen's, connected Chen on the phone and translated his words into English for the panel.

Concluding the phone call, Chen said he wanted "to thank all of you for your care and for your love."

Despite neither body of Congress being in session this week, Rep. Chris Smith, the chairman of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, convened a hearing today to examine Chen Guangcheng's quandary as he seeks safe travel out of China.

"It was a great relief that I and millions around the world learned of his escape and his reaching safety at the American Embassy in Beijing on Friday morning.  Yet it is with equally great concern that I convene this hearing of the China Commission today," Smith, R-N.J., said before Chen called into the hearing. "Chen has, since leaving the American Embassy in Beijing, expressed an earnest desire to gain asylum for himself and for his family. Questions indeed arise as to whether or not Chen was pressured to leave the U.S. compound."

Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., said that Chen's case "is not an anomaly" but "symptomatic of pervasive human rights abuses committed by the Chinese government" against its own citizens. Wolf said he will formally request a congressional review of all cable traffic, classified or otherwise, that surrounded the negotiations for Chen to leave the embassy. 

"It is hard to comprehend why the administration would accept at face value assurances that Chen would be safe upon exiting U.S. protection.  You wonder if there were other forces at work," Wolf said. "Had word come down from on high to resolve the Chen situation, no matter what, prior to the arrivals of secretaries [Hillary] Clinton and [Tim] Geithner, who were headed to Beijing this week for high-level economic and foreign policy talks?  Was there even a hint of coercion?  Was there any coercion, subtle coercion, forced coercion or pressure involved?  What were the internal State Department and White House deliberations?" 

Smith said he intends to convene another hearing of the commission on Chen in order to hear testimony from Obama administration witnesses. 

"There are many questions, and there are even more concerns.  How will the United States-China agreement on Chen and his family's safety be enforced?  What happens if Chen or any member of his family suffers retaliation?" Smith asked. "The eyes of the world are watching to see that his wishes are honored by the Chinese government."