The Cable

White House disputes report on Bo Xilai deputy

As the world watches the saga of blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng unfold in a Beijing hospital, the White House is disputing a Tuesday report that claimed the staff of Vice President Joe Biden overruled the State Department to reject the asylum case of Wang Lijun, the local Chinese official who fled to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu in February.

Unlike in the Chen case, when Wang sought refuge with U.S. authorities, he was not a human rights activist fleeing persecution for his advocacy on behalf of China's abused masses. Wang was the police chief of a major Chinese city and a key deputy to provincial boss Bo Xilai. Wang was embroiled in an alleged corruption and murder scandal involving Bo's wife and a British national and was fleeing Bo's wrath. He eventually left the embassy of his own volition, according to the State Department, after which he was scooped up by Beijing authorities and has not been heard from since.

In Washington, some critics accused the Obama administration of rejecting Wang's reported asylum request out of concern it would disrupt the impending visit by Chinese heir apparent Xi Jinping, whom Biden was hosting.

On Tuesday, the Washington Free Beacon, citing unnamed officials, reported that Biden's office overruled State Department and Justice Department officials to dictate that Wang's asylum request should be denied.

"In the end, Antony Blinken, Biden's national security adviser, successfully prevailed over other officials in arguing that Wang's asylum appeal should be rejected," the report stated. "Blinken, according to the officials, feared China would cancel the upcoming visit by Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, whose visit was to be hosted by Biden, unless Wang was sent away from the consulate as soon as possible."

National Security Council Spokesman Tommy Vietor told The Cable flatly that the story was false and that neither Blinken nor anyone in Biden's office was involved in the Wang case in any way.

"This is complete fiction. No one from the office of the vice president, including specifically Tony, was involved in any way shape or form," Vietor said. "This was a consular matter handled by the State Department."

"I stand by the facts of my story," Free Beacon reporter Bill Gertz told The Cable.

This week, State Department officials also took the lead in the Chen case. State Department counsel Harold Koh, Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, and Ambassador Gary Locke led the negotiations with the Chinese that found Chen in a Beijing hospital fearing for his safety and that of his family.

In a Wednesday interview with CNN, Campbell emphasized that the United States adhered to Chen's wishes in negotiating a deal with the Chinese government that allows Chen to reunite with his family and start a new life inside China.

"I think everyone felt that we had served his interests and we'd worked closely with him in a manner that brought his family together that had been torn apart years ago and really had done something that gives him a chance to have a productive life," he said. "It's not going to be easy, but that's what he wanted, and we were very grateful to be able to support him."

But Campbell also acknowledged that there was no guarantee the Chinese government would adhere to the deal and that Chen's safety may be at risk.

"Now, time will tell," he said. "And what we have been able to do is provide the base, but it will be important for the U.S. government, for non-profits, for his many friends, admirers, and supporters to create a support network for him that protects him, that supports him, that encourages him in the way ahead."

The Cable

State Department: We did not relay threats to Chen

The State Department insists that blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng left the U.S. Embassy of his own volition Wednesday and that U.S. officials in Beijing did not convey threats to harm his family by Chinese officials, as Chen claims.

"At no time did any US official speak to Chen about physical or legal threats to his wife and children. Nor did Chinese officials make any such threats to us," said State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. "U.S. interlocutors did make clear that if Chen elected to stay in the Embassy, Chinese officials had indicated to us that his family would be returned to [their home in] Shandong, and they would lose their opportunity to negotiate for reunification."

Nuland was responding to accounts by Chen supporters, now repeated by Chen himself to the Associated Press, that said Chen was pressured into leaving the embassy via threats to the safety of his wife and family. Chen told the AP that U.S. officials told him the Chinese would take his family back to their home province in Shandong, where they had been under extrajudicial house arrest and in some cases physically abused, if he didn't leave the embassy.

Chen also said a U.S. official told him the Chinese government would beat his wife to death if he didn't leave the embassy and agree to the terms of the deal struck by U.S. and Chinese negotiators, according to the AP's account.

The State Department disputed that version of events.

"I was there.  Chen made the decision to leave the Embassy after he knew his family was safe and at the hospital waiting for him, and after twice being asked by Ambassador Locke if he [was] ready to go," said Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, who was a key negotiator in the deal.  "He said, ‘zou,' -- let's go.  We were all there as witnesses to his decision, and he hugged and thanked us all."

The deal, detailed by Foreign Policy's Editor Susan Glasser from Beijing, included a reunion between Chen and his family at a hospital where he could receive attention to the foot he damaged by scaling a wall during his daring escape last week.

The deal also stipulates that the Chinese government would treat Chen and his family humanely, that they would be relocated, and that Chen would be allowed to study at a university. Senior administration officials told reporters in a background briefing in Beijing that Chen called Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from the car to the hospital and said, "I want to kiss you."

Glasser noted that Zeng Jinyan, the wife of well-known activist Hu Jia, contradicted that account on Twitter, saying Chen told her he had asked to "see" Clinton, not to kiss her.

Clinton, in a statement, said, "I am pleased that we were able to facilitate Chen Guangcheng's stay and departure from the U.S. Embassy in a way that reflected his choices and our values."

Chen, according to the AP, said that it was true he had expressed his desire to stay in China. But now that U.S. officials have left him alone in his hospital room, he is having second thoughts.

"I think we'd like to rest in a place outside of China," he said. He then asked to relay a message to Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ). "Help my family and I leave safely."

Jordan Pouille/AFP/GettyImages