Bob Fu, president of the Midland-based nonprofit China Aid, said he spoke on the phone with Chen after his escape and offered to help him leave China through the group's legion of supporters in the country.
"But he was not willing to come to the United States," Fu said. "That's why he was transported to Beijing."
The escape of Chen, a self-taught lawyer who fought China's one-child policy, has captured national attention and added tension to U.S.-China relations. Chen sought refuge at the American Embassy in Beijing, and was transported to a hospital today after international negotiators, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, received a pledge from Chinese authorities that he would be kept safe and allowed to pursue higher education.
In addition to the offer to help Chen flee China, China Aid on Saturday posted a 15-minute YouTube video of Chen speaking to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao that was recorded after his escape, according to the video description. Fu also wrote an opinion article in The Washington Post urging Clinton in her visit to Beijing this week to press China to ensure Chen and his family's safety.
Fu founded China Aid, a nonprofit organization that opposes religious persecution in China, while he lived in Pennsylvania in 2002. He moved to Texas in 2004, along with his organization, after a conference in Washington D.C. introduced him to Midland residents and their West Texas city.
Fu said he has known Chen since 2005, when Chen was leading a campaign on behalf of women who had undergone forced abortions and sterilizations as part of China's strict family planning policy. Chen battled the abuse of power by local officials "in the pretext of the one-child policy," Fu said, and tried to stop the "persecution" of parents bearing second children. That campaign resulted in Chen's 2006 conviction and imprisonment.
China Aid, which has an eight-person staff in Midland, aims to promote religious freedom and the rule of law in China, and it is the latter goal that brought Chen and Fu together, Fu said. The decision to help Chen was not about having moral objections to abortion, said Fu, whose organization is Christian. Fu said he does not know Chen's religion.
"Whether you're pro-life or pro-choice, forced abortion is not a good choice," Fu said. He added: "We have been working with lawyers like Mr. Chen, whether they're Christian or not, religious or non-religious. As long as they're fighting for rule of law, we're supporting them."
Fu's opposition to forced abortions came firsthand after his wife, who was pregnant without having obtained government permission, faced the prospect of a forced abortion. Fu and his wife fled China in 1996, first to Thailand, then to Hong Kong, where their son was born.
They arrived in Pennsylvania in 1997 and have lived in the United States ever since. Fu said he has not been back to China since leaving.
Even though Chen declined the offer to come to the United States after his escape, Fu said Chen should reconsider.
"I cannot feel there is a viable option for him to continue in China given the current environment," Fu said. "My hope is, if Chen is able to get permission from China to have his family members come to the U.S. for some time, some peaceful time, and receive some medical treatment, the U.S. can facilitate that effort."