White House defends handling of Chinese activist seeking asylum

White House press secretary Jay Carney on Thursday defended the administration’s handling of Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng, whose future in China remains uncertain.

Carney refused to answer questions about whether the White House would support asylum for Chen, repeatedly referring those questions to the State Department.

He also insisted that Chen never requested political asylum while in the U.S. embassy and that U.S. officials did not pressure him to remain in China.

On Thursday, days after Chen sought refuge at the U.S. embassy in Beijing, a State Department deal that would have allowed the dissident to remain in China fell apart, creating a diplomatic nightmare for the administration.

U.S. officials say Chen told them he wanted to stay in China and that he left the U.S. embassy on his own volition as part of a deal in which Chinese authorities said he would be safe.

But Chen then had second thoughts and pled for President Obama to let him into the United States.

The change of heart appears to have taken place after Chinese police surrounded Chen in his hospital room after he left the embassy to get treated for injuries sustained during his escape from house arrest 10 days ago.

Republicans are hammering the administration over how it handled Chen, saying he never should have been let out of the embassy.

“It should have been obvious to U.S. officials all along that there is no way to guarantee Mr. Chen's safety so long as he is within reach of the Chinese police state," House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) said in a statement. “The U.S. should not have given in to Chinese pressure for Chen to be taken out of the safety of the U.S. embassy.”

The drama is taking place during a visit to China by Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSuper PACs release ad campaign hitting Vance over past comments on Trump I voted for Trump in 2020 — he proved to be the ultimate RINO in 2021 Neera Tanden tapped as White House staff secretary MORE and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

Carney said Obama has been updated about developments on this matter and kept abreast of Chen's situation, but he wouldn’t characterize the president's assessment of the matter. He said he was not aware whether Obama would speak out publicly on the issue.

Carney also refused to give a “play by play” on Chen’s status, saying the State Department is conducting an “ongoing discussion” with Chen and his wife and officials in Beijing.

“Obviously the situation is evolving,” Carney said.

He said the “broad-based” U.S. relationship with China would continue to move forward, but stopped short of answering a question about whether the administration can trust Chinese officials.

He did say the administration would “raise concerns" when those concerns need to be raised.

The relationship with China “will continue to move forward as we deal with this specific issue,” he said.