Blind Chinese rights activist Chen Guangcheng (陳光誠) said yesterday he expects Beijing to let him and his family travel to the US without any further hassle, but remains unsure how long it will take for official approval to come through.
The 40-year-old campaigner, who took shelter in the US embassy in Beijing for six days after escaping house arrest, said he was still in hospital undergoing checks, which had identified an intestinal problem as enteritis — a chronic inflammation from an apparent infection.
“I can’t move around much but I’m feeling better,” he said in a telephone call, sounding more relaxed than last week when he was at the center of a diplomatic crisis between the two superpowers just as US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was visiting the Chinese capital.
After leaving the US embassy on Wednesday under a deal that foresaw him staying in China, Chen changed his mind and said he wanted to spend time in the US to recuperate from the years of imprisonment and harassment that made him one of his country’s most recognized representatives of the “rights defense” movement and a leader of the campaign for the expansion of civic freedoms.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Friday that Chen could apply to study abroad, prompting an offer of a fellowship from New York University, though it remained unclear if China would cooperate in the dissident’s travel arrangements.
Chen said yesterday that Chinese authorities had no reason to try to block him and his wife and two children from going to the US.
“I still don’t know when I’ll leave, but it shouldn’t be too long,” he said. “The government openly promised to respect my rights as a citizen, and I expect them to live up to that promise.”
“If they did try to frustrate my plans, then they’d be slapping their own face, and I don’t think they will do that,” Chen said.
Any more friction with Beijing over Chen’s future could embolden US critics of US President Barack Obama’s China policies as the country gears up for its upcoming presidential elections in November.
They had seized on Chen’s pleas for safety and his assertions, later retracted, that US diplomats had left him isolated after escorting him from the embassy to the hospital.
Bob Fu (傅希秋), the president of ChinaAid, a Texas-based Christian advocacy group that has campaigned on Chen’s behalf, said hospital staff had passed his request for a passport to Chinese officials.
“He said that for a disabled person, like a blind person, they don’t have to file papers, they just have to make an oral request for an application,” Fu said, describing a recent telephone conversation with the dissident.
“I asked whether any friends can help him, he said he needs help, but none of his friends can visit him,” Fu added.
US Vice President Joe Biden said on Sunday the US was ready to give Chen a visa “right away” so that he could take up the fellowship at New York University.
Chen’s confinement, his escape and the furore that ensued have made him part of China’s dissident folklore: a blind prisoner outfoxing Chinese Communist Party (CCP) controls in an echo of the man who stood down an army tank near Tiananmen Square in 1989.
In 2006, Chen was sentenced to more than four years in jail on charges — vehemently denied by his wife and lawyers — that he whipped up a crowd that disrupted traffic and damaged property.