China Says Dissident Can Apply To Study Overseas

Posted May 4th, 2012 at 5:35 am (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

China says that blind dissident Chen Guangcheng is free to apply to study abroad, signaling a possible resolution to a diplomatic dispute that began when he escaped house arrest and fled to the U.S. embassy in Beijing

The announcement Friday followed a series of dramatic appeals by Chen, who says he is worried about his safety and wants to travel to the U.S. with his family “for a time.” Chen told reporters via telephone from a Beijing hospital Friday that he has been unable to meet U.S. officials since Wednesday, when he left the embassy where he had sought refuge for nearly a week.

Earlier, he told U.S. lawmakers during phone call carried live in a Congressional hearing Thursday that he hopes to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has been taking part in annual high-level U.S. China talks in Beijing.

China has demanded an apology for what it sees as U.S. interference in the case of Chen. But foreign ministry spokesperson Liu Weimin said Friday that Chen can apply to study outside the country if he goes through normal channels, “just like any other citizen.”

But some human rights activists say the U.S. should be skeptical about the Chinese government's assurances regarding the safety of Chen. Phelim Kine, a senior Asia researcher at U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, tells VOA that he is waiting to see if China follows through on its earlier promise to guarantee Chen's safety.

“Based on the Chinese government's atrocious track record of respecting the rights of Chen Guangcheng and his family, the Chinese government's talk is cheap. And what is needed is substantive, verifiable, action.”

Chen originally agreed to a deal reached by U.S. and Chinese authorities that would allow him to stay in a “safe” place in China and study law. But he changed his mind hours after leaving U.S. protection, saying his family had been threatened.

Clinton has not commented publicly on Chen's case during the talks. She told Chinese President Hu Jintao Friday that the U.S. is committed to “bridging differences wherever possible,” but said that the U.S.-China relationship is “stronger than it's ever been.”

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said the talks have been “highly productive,” and that the two countries have “accommodated each other's major concerns.” But he urged Clinton to respect differences between the two countries.

Chinese state media took a more pessimistic view of the incident on Friday. An editorial in the government-backed Beijing Daily said Chen has “become a tool and a pawn for American politicians to throw mud on China.”

Chen is a self-taught lawyer and human rights activist who has been blind since childhood. He was given a four-year prison sentence in 2006 for exposing abuses under China's forced abortion policy aimed at population control. He had been under house arrest since 2010, before escaping on April 22.