The US and China have forged the outlines of a deal to end a diplomatic stand-off over legal activist Chen Guangcheng, with Beijing saying he can apply to go abroad for study and Washington saying he has been offered an American fellowship.
After three days of fraught, behind-the-scenes and emotional calls by Mr Chen from a guarded hospital room, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said progress had been made in granting the activist’s wish to take his family abroad.
She said she was encouraged by a Chinese foreign ministry statement that said Mr Chen may apply to leave the country.
He has been offered a fellowship at an American university and may take his family, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, adding that the US expects Beijing to quickly process their travel permits, after which US visas would be granted.
“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,” Ms Clinton said after two days of annual strategic talks in Beijing.
The quickly announced steps were positive signs that the governments were nearing a deal to end one of their most delicate diplomatic crises in years.
A blind, self-taught lawyer and symbol in China’s civil rights movement, Mr Chen triggered the stand-off after he escaped abusive house arrest in his rural town and sought refuge in the US Embassy in Beijing last week.
He left six days later under a negotiated deal in which he and his family were to be reunited at a hospital and then safely relocated in China so he could formally study law. But he later upended the agreement by saying they wanted to go abroad.
After arriving at Chaoyang Hospital on Wednesday for treatment of an injury, Mr Chen said he had no further direct contact with US officials for nearly two days, fuelling a sense of abandonment and fears about the safety of him, his wife and two children.
However, Ms Clinton said that Ambassador Gary Locke spoke with Mr Chen on Friday and that embassy staff and a doctor met him – further positive signs.
“He confirms that he and his family now want to go to the United States so that he can pursue his studies,” Ms Clinton said.