Chinese Gov't: Blind Activist Can Apply to Study in U.S.
Chen says he wants to go to the United States to "recuperate."
Chen Guangcheng took refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing for six days. (YouTube)
The Chinese government noted that he could apply to travel to the United States to study -- a development that the United States instantly cited as an encouraging sign of progress in what has been a thorny and controversial impasse.
"As a Chinese citizen, he may apply like other Chinese citizens according to the laws and normal procedures of the relevant departments," Liu Weimin, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said in a statement posted on the ministry's website.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States is "encouraged" by the statement.
"From the beginning all of our efforts with Mr. Chen have been guided by his choices and our values, and I'm pleased that today our ambassador has spoken with him again, our embassy staff and our doctor had a chance to meet with him and he confirms that he and his family now want to go to the United States so he can pursue his studies," Clinton told reporters in Beijing.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Chen has been offered a fellowship from an American university "where he can be accompanied by his wife and two children."
"The Chinese government has indicated that it will accept Mr. Chen's applications for appropriate travel documents. The United States government expects that the Chinese government will expeditiously process his applications for these documents, and make accommodations for his current medical condition. The United States government would then give visa requests for him and his immediate family priority attention," she said. "This matter has been handled in the spirit of a cooperative U.S.-China partnership."
The complex crisis of the future of Chen overshadowed Clinton's long-planned visit to Beijing for strategic and economic talks, a trip dominated by a flurry of negotiations between Chinese and U.S. officials and
The diplomatic headache came just months before a presidential election in the United States and a once-in-a-decade change of leadership in China.
The uproar prompted sharp Republican criticism of the Obama administration as soft on autocratic governments that abuse their citizens, and it has touched a nerve politically.
In one remarkable development, Chen called into a congressional hearing Thursday chaired by Republican Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey.
"China pledged to guarantee my constitutional rights and called me a free man," Chen said, speaking from his hospital room early Friday in Beijing to congressional commission members who listened by speakerphone in Washington, 12 times zones and thousands of miles away.
"I want them to keep their commitment by allowing me to travel abroad to recuperate," Chen said. "I want to go to the United States and rest for a while, since I haven't had a Sunday in seven years."
The 40-year-old, blind, self-taught lawyer added that he wants to meet with Clinton "to thank her in person."
The Chinese comments came as U.S. diplomats spoke with Chen, in a Beijing hospital. The officials also met with Chen's wife, Yuan Weijing, in person, according to a senior State Department official who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.
The U.S. officials' visit was part of the deal worked out between the United States and China under which Chen left the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, where he had taken refuge for six days after escaping from house arrest.
The news that embassy staff had an opportunity to meet with Chen underscores the progress in the case. Chen had said early Friday that U.S. Embassy officials had told him Chinese security personnel had stopped U.S. diplomats from entering his hospital room on Thursday.
Since leaving the embassy for the hospital Wednesday, Chen has made several pleas to be allowed to leave China.
Clinton is due to leave China on Saturday for Bangladesh. It remains unclear whether a fresh deal over Chen's future will take shape before she departs.