The State Department said Friday it was working on a request from Congress to shed light on a visit by a former Chinese police chief to a US consulate, which sparked rumors he was trying to defect.
Wang Lijun, who has close links to a high-profile contender to join China's top decision-making body, on February 6 visited the US consulate in the southwestern city of Chengdu but then left and flew to Beijing.
The visit sparked speculation that he had tried to seek asylum. The incident came days before Vice President Xi Jinping flew to Washington for a trip long planned by President Barack Obama's administration in hopes of smooth relations with China's likely next leader.
Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and staunch critic of Beijing, sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking whether the United States denied asylum to Wang.
"These reports raise questions about whether Mr. Wang sought asylum protection from the United States and, if so, what steps were taken to secure US national interests and Mr. Wang's personal safety," she wrote in the letter last week, a copy of which was seen by AFP.
The Republican congresswoman asked in the letter for the State Department to provide her committee with all cables, email and other correspondence involving the Chengdu consulate over the incident by Friday.
It had not received a response as of late Friday, a committee aide said.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, asked about Ros-Lehtinen's deadline, said: "We have received the congresswoman's letter concerning Wang Lijun and we are working on her request."
Wang, vice mayor and former police chief of Chongqing, is famed as one of China's top graft-busters after leading a crackdown that led to scores of senior officials being jailed in the southwestern city of 30 million people.
The operation brought Wang into the spotlight and boosted the political prospects of his controversial boss, Chongqing Communist Party secretary Bo Xilai. But some analysts believe Bo's hopes for a seat on the nine-member Politburo Standing Committee could be hampered by the consulate incident.
Source: AFP American Edition