The US and China yesterday forged the outlines of a deal to end a diplomatic standoff over legal activist Chen Guangcheng (陳光誠), with Beijing saying he can apply to go abroad for study and Washington saying he has been offered a US fellowship.
After three days of fraught, behind-the-scenes and emotional calls by Chen from a guarded hospital room, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said progress had been made in granting the activist’s wish to take his family abroad.
She said she was encouraged by a Chinese Foreign Ministry statement that said Chen may apply to leave the country. Chen has been offered a fellowship at a US university and may take his family, US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, adding that the US expects Beijing to quickly process their travel permits, after which US visas would be granted.
“Over the course of the day, progress has been made to help him have the future that he wants, and we will be staying in touch with him as this process moves forward,” Clinton said speaking to reporters after two days of annual strategic talks in Beijing.
The quickly announced steps were positive signs that the governments were nearing a deal to end one of their most delicate diplomatic crises in years.
The concession was offered in a Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement while Chen remained in a guarded Beijing hospital ward, unable to see US officials. His wife’s movements are being monitored, he said, and the couple with their two children feel in danger.
On Thursday, several of his supporters and family members were beaten up outside the hospital when they tried to see him.
"I can only tell you one thing: My situation right now is very dangerous," Chen said. "For two days, American officials who have wanted to come and see me have not been allowed in."
A blind, self-taught lawyer and symbol of China’s civil rights movement, Chen embroiled Washington and Beijing in their most delicate diplomatic crisis in years after he escaped house arrest and sought refuge in the US embassy last week. He left six days later under a negotiated deal in which he and his family were to be safely relocated in China so he could formally study law. However, he then upended the agreement by saying they wanted to go abroad.
Chen was released to a Beijing hospital where he was reunited with his wife, son and daughter.
On Thursday, he called in to a congressional hearing in Washington, telling lawmakers he wanted to meet US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is in Beijing for annual security talks.
"I hope I can get more help from her," Chen said.
While publicly Washington has said little and Beijing has shown little inclination to budge, contacts have taken place. Clinton met Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) and other top leaders, though officials declined to say if Chen’s case was discussed. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement was among the first signs of progress. In it, a spokesman said Chen, as a normal citizen, may apply to study overseas.
"As a Chinese citizen, if he wants to study abroad he can go through the normal channels to the relevant departments and complete the formalities in accordance with the law like other Chinese citizens," the statement said, without elaborating.
While the statement only reiterates the normal rights of a Chinese citizen, it underscored the government’s openness to letting him go and gives shape to a possible solution: He goes abroad with the approval of the Chinese government, not the US, giving Beijing a face-saving way out.