Chen Guangcheng: Between a rock and a hard place

The saying out of the frying pan into the fire comes to mind, it's now 10 days since Chen Guangcheng made his remarkable escape from illegal house arrest. Friends tell me he was injured, bruised and shaking when he finally made it to Beijing. He's still in a bad way despite the best efforts of the US State department.

Seeking sanctuary in the US Embassy a week ago led to days of "intense diplomacy" according to US officials, who didn't sleep for a week they say. The US State Dept admits the Chinese side made it clear that Chen's wife and two children, would be sent back to their home province, the place where they had been kept as prisoners inside their own home, if Chen didn't leave the Embassy.

Blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng is seen in this undated picture Credit: Reuters

His departure from the safety of the Embassy "reflected his choices and our values" Hillary Clinton said in a statement yesterday. Within hours of what had at first looked like a daring diplomatic deal to ensure Chen's freedom in China was unravelling.

Today a State Department official is quoted as saying: "Our understanding now is that his view of what the best thing for him and his family is, may be changing".

Chen and his family are still inside a central Beijing hospital, his leg in plaster. Security has been significantly stepped up in and around the building. In some respects Chaoyang Hospital is now becoming his latest prison.

Chen is now on Chinese soil, US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, in an interview with US media earlier today, appeared to be saying that sheltering Chinese dissidents in the Embassy wouldn't happen again. China has asked for an apology from the US. None has been publicly made so far.

Chen Guangcheng (2nd L) being accompanied by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell (front R) Credit: Reuters

So Chen can't go back. What about forwards? The latest from US officials, who've been speaking to him and his wife today, is that it's still uncertain what Chen wants to do.

First he told the US he wanted to stay in China, then last night he told me on the phone he wanted to leave, this morning he says he wants to go to the States. It's a confusing position but this is a man who'd be forgiven for not thinking clearly, after what he's been through. He's been through a horrible struggle for years, jailed, forced to watch his wife being beaten, his home turned into a prison.

China and the US appear to be waiting for Chen's choice.