Blind Activist Chen Can Apply to Study Abroad, Chinese Foreign Ministry Says

China says prominent dissident Chen Guangcheng can apply to study abroad, potentially indicating a way out of the diplomatic crisis with the US over him.

Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell with Chen Guangcheng at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, China, on May 1, 2012. U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke is also pictured. Photo: U.S. Department of State/Flickr

A foreign ministry statement claims that Mr Chen could “apply through normal channels in accordance with the law”.

The announcement by the Chinese Foreign Ministry followed a dramatic and very public appeal by Chen, who spoke by phone to a U.S. 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, writes Reuters.

The blind dissident was arrested last month and had to spend almost a week inside the US embassy. Now he is free and wants to go to the US with his family. His case has overshadowed high-level US-China talks taking place in Beijing.

“If he wishes to study overseas, as a Chinese citizen, he can, like any other Chinese citizens, process relevant procedures with relevant departments through normal channels in accordance to the law,” Xinhua news agency quoted spokesman Liu Weimin as saying.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. ambassador to Beijing, Gary Locke, had spoken to Chen again on Friday when he had confirmed he wanted to go to the United States 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.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland reported that the blind activist had been offered a fellowship from an American university, where he can be accompanied by his wife and two children.

She said Washington expects Beijing to quickly deal with his application to travel abroad. “The United States government would then give visa requests for him and his immediate family priority attention,” Nuland said.

Some time ago, China had demanded an apology from the US for sheltering Mr Chen in its embassy.

Despite the apparent change of heart from the government, a human rights lawyer explained that Mr Chen could still be delayed or prevented from leaving the country.

“This notice from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is positive news, but how it will play out we don’t know,” Tang Jitian said. “For instance, getting the approval for the paperwork to go – there are many potential pitfalls. We can’t be 100% optimistic.”

Mr Chen is currently in a Beijing hospital, sealed off by Chinese police.

On Thursday, the activist said that he feared for the safety of his family and wanted to meet Mrs Clinton face to face.

Chen spent a week in the US embassy but left after initially accepting China’s assurances of his safety, reports BBC.

The man later confessed that he only realised the full extent of the threats against his family members after he left the embassy.

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