The office of Vice President Joe Biden overruled State and Justice Department officials in denying the political asylum request of a senior Chinese communist official last February over fears the high-level defection would upset the U.S. visit of China’s vice president, according to U.S. officials.
The defector, Wang Lijun, was turned away after 30 hours inside the U.S. Consulate Chengdu and given over to China’s Ministry of State Security, the political police and intelligence service.
Wang has not been seen since Feb. 7 and remains under investigation. His attempt to flee China set off a major power struggle within the ruling Communist Party and led to the ouster of leftist Politburo member Bo Xilai and the arrest of his wife on murder charges.
New disclosures on the handling of the failed defection come as the Obama administration is facing a new test of its relations with Beijing over another defection, the flight to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing of Chen Guangcheng, a blind human rights activist who is believed to be in hiding there.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was scheduled to leave Monday night for talks with the Chinese in Beijing as part of what is called the Strategic and Economic Dialogue. The Obama administration has sought to downplay Beijing’s human rights abuses as part of its foreign policy toward China.
According to officials familiar with internal discussions on the Wang case, the rejection of his asylum request may have violated the 1980 U.S. Refugee Act, a law championed by Michael H. Posner, currently assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor. United Nations human rights conventions on handling threatened refugees also may have been ignored, the officials said.
During interagency discussions over the attempted Wang defection, which played out during a tense standoff in China Feb. 6 and 7, Posner and other senior officials argued that the Chinese official should be granted asylum and helped out of China so he could appear before a federal judge in California.