China: Activist Chen can apply to study abroad

China: Activist Chen can apply to study abroad

Blind activist Chen Guangcheng can apply to study abroad, China’s Foreign Ministry said today.

The move possibly paves the way to resolving a diplomatic stand-off with the United States.

The ministry said in a statement on its website that Mr Chen would be allowed to apply to study overseas “in accordance with laws of relevant departments”. It did not immediately give details.

Mr Chen is seeking US help to leave the country after he fled house arrest and sought refuge at the US Embassy. He is now being treated at a hospital while the two countries discuss his case.

The ministry statement was the most positive response so far from the Chinese side.

There was no immediate comment from Mr Chen or the US.

The statement came shortly after Mr Chen told the Associated Press that he felt his situation was “dangerous”, and complained that American officials had been blocked from seeing him for two days and friends who tried to visit had been beaten up.

He sounded anxious as he spoke by telephone from his hospital bed, saying he was very worried about his safety.

“I can only tell you one thing – my situation right now is very dangerous,” he said. “For two days, American officials who have wanted to come and see me have not been allowed in.”

Mr Chen said he had spoken to American officials by phone twice, “but the calls keep getting cut off after two sentences”.

A senior US official said US Embassy personnel also met Mr Chen’s wife in person.

Last week Mr Chen fled his rural home where local officials had kept him under house arrest for years.

He made it to the US Embassy, where he stayed for six days before the US and China reached a deal that would allow him to stay in China but in a new location, as he had requested.

But hours after leaving the embassy on Wednesday, he said he and his family would not be safe unless they left the country.

A self-taught lawyer, the 40-year-old became an international human rights figure and inspiration to many ordinary Chinese after falling foul of local government officials for exposing forced abortions and sterilisations carried out as part of China’s one-child policy.

Until his escape last week, his nearly seven years in prison and abusive house arrest with his wife, six-year-old daughter and mother fuelled outrage and added to his stature – and in turn upped the stakes for Washington in helping him.

Mr Chen said throughout his stay at the US Embassy that his desire was to remain in China with his family, and US diplomats said that was their goal in negotiations with Chinese officials.

After several days of talks, US officials said they extracted a guarantee that Mr Chen would be relocated outside his home province to a university town where he could formally study law. US officials said they would periodically monitor his situation, though they did not specify how.

But hours after a gleeful Mr Chen left the US compound, he changed his mind, driven in part by his wife’s tales of abuse and retribution in the days after he managed to escape from his rural farmhouse.

Mr Chen also said he felt abandoned by the US, finding no embassy staff at the hospital to assure his protection.

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