By Chris Buckley
BEIJING (Reuters) - One of China's main official newspapers accused blind dissident Chen Guangcheng on Friday of serving as a "tool" for American subversion of Communist Party power and called the U.S. ambassador a backpack-wearing, Starbucks-sipping troublemaker.
The commentary in the Beijing Daily was the strongest Chinese state media condemnation yet of the U.S. administration in a standoff over Chen, who sought protection in the U.S. embassy in Beijing, then left, and has now said he regrets that choice and wants exile in the United States.
The paper, main mouthpiece of the Beijing city Communist Party authorities, accused the U.S. embassy and U.S. ambassador Gary Locke of engineering incidents intended to sully the Chinese government's reputation and to foment social discontent.
It said the embassy's sheltering of Chen was the most recent and most egregious example of this.
"This so-called 'rights defence hero' has been packaged by the United States and Western media and given an eye-catching political label, (and) set up as a representative figure against society and against the system," the paper said of Chen.
"Chen Guangcheng has become a tool and a pawn for American politicians to blacken China," it added.
Chen and his demands for protection, it said, "fully demonstrate just how desperate American politicians are in sparing no effort to cause trouble for Chinese society."
Such comments in high-level media fall short of an official government statement - the foreign ministry has avoided such sulfurous language - but they do reflect a widespread conviction among Chinese officials that Washington is determined to use human rights disputes to undermine one-party power.
Unusually, too, the Beijing Daily took very personal aim at ambassador Locke, the former U.S. commerce secretary, who won plaudits from Chinese citizens for his low-key, low-cost demeanor on taking up his diplomatic post. Some said it was a refreshing contrast with their own leaders' habits.
When Locke arrived in China last year, Chinese Internet users circulated pictures of him carrying his own back pack and buying Starbucks coffee with coupons. In the eyes of the Beijing Daily, these acts showed Locke's subversive intentions.
"Unfortunately, throughout the Chen Guangcheng incident, the U.S. ambassador to China has insisted on performing a role that is far from glorious and even could be called low and petty," said the paper.
"Ever since he flew in economy class, carrying his own back pack and buying coffee with coupons, putting on a charade of being a regular guy, what we have seen is not an ambassador to China who is prudent in his words and actions, but a standard-issue American politician who goes out of his way to stir up conflict," the paper said of Locke.
The paper asked how the United States would have reacted if during the "Occupy Wall Street" protests, a foreign embassy had "brazenly and openly received those condemned by American politicians as 'rabble' and 'rioters'".
The U.S. embassy's "farce" over Chen, the paper said, "again validates the old Chinese saying that when a weasel pays a new year's visit to a chicken, that's no reason for comfort."
(Reporting by Chris Buckley, editing by Brian Rhoads)