Chinese legal activist Chen Guangcheng (陳光誠), whose escape from house arrest sparked a diplomatic crisis between Beijing and Washington, accepted an invitation on Friday to visit Taiwan, underscoring his drive to ensure his influence as a human rights campaigner will continue abroad.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) visited Chen at New York University, where he is studying law, to invite him to visit Taiwan and to address the legislature.
“He very happily accepted our invitation and said the sooner he can come, the better,” Lin said, speaking after the meeting.
Chen declined to speak to media, but did not cite a reason.
On Tuesday, Chen said he would “most likely” accept an invitation to visit Taiwan.
“I think I will,” Chen said earlier this week. “Whoever invites me, I will accept.”
Chen will bring his family to Taiwan before next summer to meet human rights workers, lawyers and legislators and possibly speak before Taiwan’s legislature, Lin said.
After a quiet three-month period, a trip to Taiwan will catapult Chen back into the limelight. Being abroad has not cooled his campaign for human rights in China, analysts say.
“I think ... he’s trying to find a way ... to use his prominence currently to make an effective influence in China even when he’s not there,” said Wang Songlian (汪松鐮), a researcher for rights group Chinese Human Rights Defenders.
One of China’s most prominent dissidents, Hu Jia (胡佳), a close friend of Chen, said that Chen had expressed concern about how to maintain his influence while abroad.
“The point of maintaining his influence is for his future work and not because of his personal fame,” said Hu, who was released from jail last year after serving three-and-a-half years for “inciting subversion of state power.”
Hu said Chen wanted to ensure everything he says puts pressure on the Chinese government, which is one of the reasons Chen is writing a book.
Before Chen left China in June, he had told friends he was determined to stay. Many Chinese dissidents before him who had left play a marginal role in China’s current rights movement and had warned Chen could be neutralized once in New York.
Without the Internet, the voices of the old-time dissidents were barely heard. For Chen, who uses Skype and e-mail with his wife’s help, that will be different.
“Chen Guangcheng remains deeply involved and deeply engaged in the issues which he was concerned about ... when he was in China,” said Phelim Kine, New York-based deputy director for the Asia division of Human Rights Watch, saying that Chen has been widening his network of contacts inside and outside China.
Lin said Chen’s primary goal in taking the trip is learning about Taiwan’s democratic system.
“The first thing [Chen] said was: ‘Today’s Taiwan is tomorrow’s China. China must follow the democratic path that Taiwan took,’” Lin said, recounting his conversation with Chen.
The trip could complicate relations between Taiwan and China.
Taiwan, proudly democratic, regularly plays host to people China despises, including exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama. It is also home to two leaders of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests who escaped China: Wang Dan (王丹) and Wuer Kaixi (吾爾開希).
In e-mailed comments, Wang said speaking from Taiwan would help Chen reach Chinese citizens.
“China and Taiwan are now close. Anything [Chen] says in Taiwan, mainlanders will hear,” Wang said, saying that comments made in the US will be only in the English-language media, which most Chinese will not have access to.