BEIJING: China said today blind dissident Chen Guangcheng could apply to study abroad, a move praised by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and suggesting an end may be near to a diplomatic crisis between Beijing and Washington.
But rights activists sounded a note of caution over expectations of a quick way out for Chen, saying Beijing could be worried that appearing to be soft might embolden other challengers to Communist Party rule ahead of a power handover late this year.
The announcement by the Chinese Foreign Ministry followed a dramatic and very public appeal by Chen, who spoke by phone to a US congressional hearing on his case, asking to be allowed to spend time in the United States after fleeing 19 months of extra-judicial captivity in his home village.
“If he wants to study abroad, he can apply through normal channels to the relevant departments in accordance with the law, just like any other Chinese citizen,” ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said in a brief statement.
Clinton, in Beijing for strategic and economic talks, said the US ambassador to Beijing, Gary Locke, had spoken to Chen again on Friday when he had confirmed he wanted to go to the US to study, along with his family. “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,” she said. “This is not just about well known activists; it’s about the human rights and aspirations of more than a billion people here in China and billions more around the world and it’s about the future of this great nation and all nations,” Clinton added.
US officials said they now expect to have regular access for both American diplomats and doctors. They also said that checks had shown that Chen had three broken bones from his escape, and his foot was put in a cast. US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Chen had been offered a fellowship from an American university, where he can be accompanied by his wife and two children. She said Washington expected Beijing to quickly deal with his application to travel abroad. “The US government would then give visa requests for him and his immediate family priority attention,” Nuland said in a statement.